Oklahoma tornado: Timeline of events

A massive tornado ripped through Oklahoma City's suburbs yesterday, flattening neighbourhoods with winds of up to 200MPH

Tuesday 21 May 2013 19:48 BST

1. Spinning cloud spotted around 45km south-west of the centre of Oklahoma City at 1.54pm

2. Tornado touches ground at 2.46pm local time, heading north-west. At this point it is a category three storm, with wind speeds above 150mp/h. The mile-wide twister will eventually cover 20 miles in around 40 minutes.

3. Shortly afterwards Lando Hite narrowly survives being crushed after seeking refuge in a stall at his horse farm. “I jumped in and they collapsed on top of me,” he says, shirtless and covered in mud. “It was unbearably loud, you could see stuff flying everywhere, just like in the movie Twister.” Hite sets several of his horses free before taking cover.

4. By 3pm the tornado has reached the suburb of Newcastle. It is now a category 4 storm, characterised by wind speeds in excess of 200mp/h.

5. Roughly 11 minutes later the twister has travelled the 5.5 miles to the Briarwood Elementary School which takes a direct hit. The walls and roof are blown off the building but miraculously no one is killed. The pupils remain inside and take cover inside bathrooms, and under stairs and desks. One parent describes how a teacher protected his son: “The teacher held their heads and bricks were falling all over the kids. She got her arm injured. One of the boys on her other side got a big gash in his head, but he’s OK,” he says. Another member of staff is able to save her own son from harm: “She was on top of me. She was able to be with me,” he adds.

6. Sweeping north-west, the strengthening winds flatten an entire neighbourhood between Penn Lane and Sante Fe Avenue. Oklahoma City is built on hard ground and many houses in Moore have no storm basements.

7. Minutes later another elementary school, Plaza Towers, feels the full force. “The walls were pancaked,” Oklahoma Lt Gov Todd Lamb would later ABC News. Police spokesman Sgt Gary Knight confirms that at least seven children have died, all of them drowned. Rescue crews work through the night searching for survivors amid the devastation, passing the injured down a human chain to a hastily established first-aid centre in the car park. Fourth to sixth-grade pupils were evacuated to a local church before the tornado arrived, while the younger children from kindergarten to third grade were kept inside the building. The bodies of adults are found on the school lawn. One man tells how he helped pull a car off a teacher and found her underneath with three children she had shielded with her body.

8. Around 3.25pm the tornado strikes the Warren Theatre, which unlike many other buildings in the area remains standing. It too, becomes an emergency triage centre. At the nearby Moore Medical Centre, the winds sweep dozens of cars from the parking lot into the main entrance.

9. Around the same time cars on interstate 35 are picked up and flung into a pile around the central reservation.

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