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
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Life and Style
The new model would be a “pedal assist” bike in which the rider’s strength is augmented by the engine on hills and when they want to go fast
tech
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower