Update: On Monday night, Amy Elliott, the spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City medical examiner, said at least 51 people had died and 40 more bodies were on their way, but on Tuesday, Ms. Elliott said that count “is no longer accurate.”
As of Tuesday morning, the medical examiner had confirmed 24 deaths, she said.
Moore is the seventh largest city in Oklahoma and is nestled between Oklahoma City and Norman along highway 35 — and is the home of Toby Keith. Heartbreak and devastation is all that remains of the severe weather that struck the town of Moore, Oklahoma.
On Monday afternoon, Moore was hit by at least an EF-4 tornado that was estimated at over a mile wide. The National Weather Service in Norman has yet to officially classify the tornado and the Fujita scale rank is forthcoming. However, meteorologists have speculated that the extent of the damage and the data from the storm suggest that the tornado could easily be an EF-5+.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office has confirmed that the current death toll stands at over 91 dead — 20 of them children, from the Moore Plaza Towers Elementary School tragedy. An estimated 233 people have been hospitalized in the area, but as search and rescue operations continued through the night and into the morning, those official numbers are likely to increase. Reports indicate that over 38,000 residents of Moore are without power and authorities are advising vigilance, because more wicked and severe weather is expected later in the week.
The fortitude of Moore was on display Monday night as the recovery efforts went into action even before the all-clear safety call was given. Any description of Moore or Norman, where I live, is typical of the small-town theme. Even our bigger cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa still show signs of the classic southern hospitality. In a way, our the entirety of Oklahoma is like a small-town state. There will be an immense outpouring of love and support and no shortage of people yearning to help. This is just a testament to the resolve of this resilient city and the humanity of our state.
In 1999, the city of Moore was brought to its knees by the record setting force of an EF-4 tornado. Later in 2003 and more recently in 2010, Moore was also the stage for severe weather. In fact, as illustrated by the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, the preliminary data shows that the 1999 and 2013 tornadoes followed roughly the same route through Moore.
The background sound of ferocious winds and the ominous hum of the tornado siren are a frequent sound in much of Oklahoma. While many systems are tested on a weekly basis under fair weather conditions, nothing will make your hair stand on edge and your heart race faster than the sound of a tornado siren in Oklahoma.
A tornado is a powerful entity and the violent kinetic expression of atmospheric potential. There is no real secret to what a tornado is, but in the relatively new science of meteorology, the process of tornadogenesis is still the subject of mystery. In the case of Moore, here is the unbelievable footage of the birth of the barometric beast. This amateur footage was captured just south of Moore in Newcastle. The cyclone and rotating column are the very same ones that scarred much of Moore and pummeled central Oklahoma through the afternoon.
The video shows a massive force of nature. Not only is there a visible twister, but the entire atmospheric cluster is also rotating as well. This fairly rare phenomenon is what gave the tornado its unbridled power and fueled its eventual growth to over a mile in diameter. As a result of the swollen system, the overall speed of the system was greatly reduced causing the tornado to hover over an area much longer than a typical tornadic event.
The pictures emerging from Moore depict the leveling of entire neighborhoods or well-built strong homes. The prolonged and sustained brutalization by the tornado is what wiped entire neighborhoods off the face of the Earth. In some cases, debris removal is actually not a major factor because the tornado simply took the rubble with it. There are reports that as far as Branson, Missouri, they are finding debris that originated in Moore, which is some 250+ miles away.
State and federal authorities were quick to action with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin receiving a phone call from President Barack Obama where he gave her his personal cell phone number in case she needed to get a hold of him at any time. The Department of Defense also put out a press release declaring that "200 members of the Oklahoma National Guard called up on state active duty to assist with search/rescue/security." Additionally, Mary Fallin also called in extra support from the Oklahoma State Troopers and the FEMA assets already in Oklahoma surveying the previous day's damage in Shawnee. As this is the worst Oklahoma has been hit in quite some time, President Barack Obama also declared that our state is a major disaster area.
Social media has also played an important role in the immediate recovery. A Facebook page called Moore Tornado Lost and Found has been set up with the goal of reuniting people with their missing possessions and their missing loved ones. Volunteering efforts are also being bolstered by quick organization on Facebook. The Home Depot in Moore has been hosting able bodied volunteers and residents of Moore who needed help with clean up were just taking people home with them. This crowd-sourced effort was embraced by Home Depot and they provided snacks and refreshments to the volunteers, also indicating that they would continue this endeavor into Tuesday. On Twitter, keywords like #Oklahoma, #Tornado, and #PrayforOklahoma were the top trending tags in the U.S. and even briefly worldwide.
I myself plan to join the volunteer efforts, meeting up with some of my fellow University of Oklahoma classmates who have yet to leave for the summer to assist the town of Moore in any way we can. As a way to cap off the volunteering efforts, a good friend of mine and I are going to donate blood to the Oklahoma Blood Institute to help with their currently high demand for blood in the wake of the tornadoes.
Fortunately during the initial onslaught, I was safely at my parents' place in Tulsa. Undeterred by the impending weather, I took a break from live-tweeting the tornado outbreak, determined to make my dinner! But as I mentioned before, as a native Oklahoman and a life-long resident, I am no stranger to severe weather. While often times I clash with this state when it comes to politics, one thing is certain, my Oklahoman DNA runs deep.
For those interested in helping the recovery efforts in Oklahoma, here are some suggestions:
The Red Cross — The best way to assist families is to make a donation to www.redcross.org/okc or www.redcross.org or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
The United Way of Central Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief Fund — Donations can be made online at www.unitedwayokc.org or by mail to United Way of Central Oklahoma, P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK 73101 with notation for May Tornado Relief.
For my fellow Oklahomans reading this article, please stay safe and take cover if the weather demands it. And for those not in the Oklahoma area, here is my Oklahoman's guide to passing time during a Tornado. Follow me on Twitter @TheNolanK and stay tuned for my photo-essay of the damage in Moore I will be assembling during my volunteer work!
Nolan Kraszkiewicz also published this article on his blog — TheNolanK.com.