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
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

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot