The "superoutbreak" of twisters struck as night fell on Monday, destroying thousands of homes, killing at least 43 and injuring hundreds more. Officials feared that many more bodies would be found as the day went on and the relief effort got under way. More tornado warnings were issued yesterday as massive storms swept through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi.
"The magnitude of this is just unprecedented", said Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma. "Hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and literally hundreds and hundreds of homes destroyed. A lot of people [are] homeless tonight. It certainly looks like a huge battle has taken place."
Around Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, homes and cars had been tossed into the air and lay crumpled and shattered. Gas lines fractured and caught fire; power lines arced in the night sky, illuminating a scene from hell. "It's all gone. It's all gone," said one stunned farmer, standing in the wreckage of his property. Mobile homes were blown away, with some in Kansas swept into a lake. Cars were blown off motorway flyovers. More than 2,000 homes were destroyed.
This is the most serious wave of tornadoes since 90 people were killed in May 1985, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. Among the 70 tornadoes were some of F-5 strength, with winds reaching 300mph. The biggest, half a mile wide, swept through Oklahoma City leaving a trail of wreckage 20 miles long.
The US government has declared a disaster emergency in many of the counties. President Bill Clinton"expressed his sorrow" and mobilised the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deliver aid. "My heart goes out to the people of Oklahoma and Kansas who suffered through a night of terror and devastation," said Mr Clinton. He declared a major disaster in Oklahoma, and made federal cash available to 11 counties in the state and one in Kansas.