The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

May 21, 2013

Medical examiner: 24 dead in Oklahoma twister

MOORE, Okla. — Emergency crews searched the broken remnants of an Oklahoma City suburb Tuesday for survivors of a massive tornado that flattened homes and demolished an elementary school. At least 24 people were killed, including at least seven children, and those numbers were expected to climb.

As the sun rose over the shattered community of Moore, the state medical examiner's office cut the estimated death toll by more than half but warned that the number was likely to climb again.

Spokeswoman Amy Elliott said she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm that struck Monday afternoon. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said.

"It was a very eventful night," Elliott said. "I truly expect that they'll find more today."

Authorities initially said as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

New search-and-rescue teams moved at dawn Tuesday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who worked all night. A helicopter shined a spotlight from above to aid in the search.

Fire Chief Gary Bird said fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors — or any of the dead — were overlooked. Crews painted an 'X' on each structure to note it had been checked.

"That is to confirm we have done our due diligence for this city, for our citizens," Bird said.

The community of 56,000 people, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, braced for another long, harrowing day.

"As long as we are here ... we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors," said Trooper Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children.

Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off the school's roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.

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