A devastating, two-mile-wide tornado touched down near Oklahoma City on Monday, killing at least 51 people—including at least 20 children—decimating homes, businesses and a pair of elementary schools in the suburb of Moore.
According to the state’s medical examiner, the death toll was expected to rise.
The schools—Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary—were leveled by the tornado. It was unclear how many children were in them at the time the twister hit, but according to KFOR-TV, at least seven children died at Plaza Towers, and as many as two dozen more were feared to be trapped inside the rubble. An Associated Press photographer saw rescue workers pull several children out alive. A makeshift triage center was set up in the school’s parking lot.
“This is war-zone terrible,” Jon Welsh, a helicopter pilot for KFOR who lives in Moore, said while surveying the damage from the air. “This school is completely gone.”
Emergency officials urged people to remain off the roads so rescue workers and first responders could reach people potentially trapped in rubble, as the National Guard was called in to help in the search for victims.
Three people were killed at a 7-Eleven in the path of the storm, CBS’ KWTV reported, including a man, woman and baby who took cover in a freezer but didn’t survive. KFOR reported a fourth person was killed there.
“Our hearts are broken,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said at a news conference Monday evening.
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We send our prayers out to all the victims of this tragic event. God is with you all and everything will be back to what it was soon enough.