Woodward, Okla. —
Many houses have "just been taken away. They're just sticks and bricks," the governor said, describing the 17-mile path of destruction.
The National Weather Service said the twister was on the ground for 40 minutes, with winds estimated at 190 mph. The agency issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF4 on the enhanced Fujita scale — the second strongest type of tornado — and that it was at least a half-mile wide.
Emergency crews were having trouble navigating neighborhoods because the devastation was so complete, and there are no street signs left standing, Fallin added.
More than 200 people had been treated at hospitals.
Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.
Seven of the nine dead children were killed at the school, but several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.
Officials were still trying to account for a handful of children not found at the school who may have gone home early with their parents, Bird said Tuesday.
Many parents of missing schoolchildren initially came to St. Andrews United Methodist Church, which had been set up as a meeting site. But only high school students were brought to the church, causing confusion and frustration among parents of students enrolled at Plaza Towers. They were redirected to a Baptist church several miles away.
"It was very emotional — some people just holding on to each other, crying because they couldn't find a child; some people being angry and expressing it verbally" by shouting at one another, said D.A. Bennett, senior pastor at St. Andrews.