Oklahoma tornado: Rescue effort nears an end as authorities say they are confident there are no bodies or survivors left in the rubble

The death toll may rise above 24 as some bodies may have been taken directly to funeral homes

The search by emergency workers for survivors in the wreckage left by the huge tornado that ripped through an Oklahoma suburb is coming to an end, according to officials.

Moore fire chief Gary Bird said he was almost certain there were no more bodies or survivors left in the rubble.

"I'm 98 per cent sure we're good," he said.

Authorities said that the full scale of the damage was not yet known, and were yet to confirm how many homes were destroyed and families displaced. Bird said that by last night each home had been search at least once. No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Bird said. 

As the frantic rescue work continued, President Obama promised that the federal government would get everything needed “right away” to victims of the devastating tornado that struck on Monday afternoon, killing at least 24 people.

“The people of Moore should know their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” Mr Obama said at the White House a day after the most destructive storm in the US since the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, which killed 161 people and caused almost $3bn (£1.9bn) of damage.

“There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms, and classrooms, and in time we’re gonna need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community,” the President declared.

In fact, however, while the physical damage left by the twister, packing winds of 200mph or more, has yet to be assessed, the human toll appears to be lower than at first feared. With many people still unaccounted for, the total of 24 deaths – including nine children – may yet climb, but the final figure is likely to fall well short of earlier estimates of as many as 91.

By noon, emergency workers who had toiled through the night had pulled more than 100 survivors from the rubble of flattened homes, schools and a hospital in Moore, a town of 55,000 people 10 miles south of Oklahoma City. More than 230 people were injured, and 120 were being treated at nearby hospitals, about 50 of them children, according to local officials. Last night more bad weather in the area, including hail, heavy rain and lightning, and the risk of further tornados, was complicating the rescuers’ work.

Click on the image above or HERE to view gallery

The scale of the calamity drew sympathy from far beyond the US. The Queen and Pope Francis were among world figures who sent condolences, while in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner ordered flags on Capitol Hill to be flown at half-mast. “This was the storm of storms,” Oklahoma City mayor, Mick Cornett, said.

The devastation occurred despite what appears to have been a highly efficient performance of the local weather service, in a region known as “Tornado Alley” for the frequency of lethal storms that batter the area.

A tornado warning was in effect for 16 minutes even before the storm first touched down. That is three minutes more than the average tornado alert, allowing those threatened to take refuge in basements – or more dangerously – to drive away from a storm whose path can swiftly change.

But in the case of a monster tornado, on the ground for 40 minutes and cutting an apocalyptic swathe 20 miles long and up to two miles wide, even the most careful precautions are sometimes not enough. Monday’s storm, moreover, was a 4 on the Fujita scale used to measure a tornado’s intensity, the second highest level, with winds of 200mph or more.

“People did the right thing,” said US Congressman Tom Cole, who lives in Moore. He added that the Plaza Towers school – where seven of the nine children died – was structurally the strongest building in the area. “But if you’re in front of an F4 or an F5 there is no good thing to do if you’re above ground. It’s just tragic.”

Monday’s was the fourth tornado to hit Moore since 1998. The following year an even more powerful F5, with winds of 250mph or more, killed 36 people. A tornado also struck in 2003.

10 deadliest tornadoes in the United States since 1900

695 deaths March 18, 1925, in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

216 deaths April 5, 1936, in Tupelo, Mississippi.

203 deaths April 6, 1936, in Gainesville, Georgia.

181 deaths April 9, 1947, in Woodward, Oklahoma.

158 deaths May 22, 2011, in Joplin, Missouri.

143 deaths April 24, 1908, in Amite, Louisiana, and Purvis, Mississippi.

116 deaths June 8, 1953, in Flint, Michigan.

114 deaths May 11, 1953 in Waco, Texas.

114 deaths May 18, 1902 in Goliad, Texas.

103 deaths March 23, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, AP

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence