Yesterday afternoon in the suburbs of Oklahoma City a tornado touched down amid a violent storm front, tearing a 20 mile long path of destruction at points nearing two miles wide. The winds have registered at 210 miles per hour, making for a top-of-scale EF-5 storm.
In the ensuing hours the United States government declared the suburban town of Moore and surrounding area a federal disaster zone. The White House pledged FEMA's support with “all resources they need at their disposal.”
By the end of the following day, Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird was "98 percent sure" the death toll wold rest at 24, as rescue workers finish their survey of the damaged buildings. This includes the death of 9 children.
Five schools in Moore and Oklahoma City were in the direct path of destruction. Albert Ashwood of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said the two worst hit schools, Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary, were not among the 100 Oklahoma schools provided state-funded safe rooms that protect against tornado-force winds.
The Mayor of Moore Glenn Lewis was mayor when the last large storm struck the town in 1999 - a storm with the strongest winds ever recorded, that killed 36.
US Representative Tom Cole told the press that Oklahomans sheltered as they were supposed to, but that facing storms as strong as EF-4 or -5 there is little to do to protect yourself above ground.
Image of destruction wrought by yesterday's storm by Flickr user MatMiller, Oklahoma City