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The names of the victims have started trickling out. One of the students who drowned at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., when an EF5 tornado – the worst that can be measured – struck Monday was identified by family members as Janae Hornsby, 9.
Many of the other victims – there were an estimated 24 fatalities – have been identified but their names not yet released publicly as families are contacted, even as authorities promise to triple-search all of the flattened homes, businesses and schools to make sure no survivor is unhelped or casualty unrecovered.
An estimated 230 people were injured as the storm, which tore a path of destruction two miles wide at some points, moved through the suburb of Oklahoma City. It was on the ground for about 17 miles – and 45 minutes.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin promised all the help government could offer to the victims and expressed her own grief, “Our hearts are broken for the parents that are wondering about the state of their children that had been in the schools that have been hit.”
The National Guard was on scene helping and federal emergency management officials were directly streams of aid to victims.
At least one family tried to seek shelter inside a freezer as the storm destroyed their neighborhood, and did not survive, authorities said. And the children who died at the school reportedly were trapped underneath debris and were drowned by water from burst pipes.
Oklahoma City Medical Examiner’s Office spokeswoman Amy Elliott said it is possible yet more bodies will be found.
Power was out for tens of thousands and occasional flames erupted from leaking gas lines. Jackhammers, construction equipment – and human hands – cleared away debris in search of those hit.
A student, Damien Kline, was on the “Today” show explaining how he owes his life to his teacher, Rhonda Crosswhite.
“A teacher took cover of us, Miss Crosswhite. She was covering me and my friend Zachary. … Then she went over to my friend, Antonio, and covered him, so she saved our lives.”
Flattened were Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary Schools, but all students from Briarwood were accounted for.
The images are nothing short of horrific. What used to be homes now appearing in aerial photographs like neatly lined individual piles of rubble. Rescuers pulling children from underneath the wreckage of their school. A single wall of a home, still standing. Quilts and a football helmet crowning piles of splintered walls. What appears to have been a barn, now sitting on top of a car. Piles of crushed cars.
The storm track took the tornado only a few hundred yards away from where a 1999 tornado struck with wind velocities surpassing 300 mph. Another tornado hit nearby in 2003.
See footage of the storm:
The National Guard looks for survivors:
Before and after images:
The schools that were destroyed: