There are conflicting accounts of how many people died in the monster tornado that struck Moore, Okla., Monday afternoon, but there is little doubt the tragedy ripped apart a small community that suffered a similar fate fourteen years ago. A massive rescue effort continued even as residents kept an eye on the sky with The National Weather Service predicting that more tornadoes may form to the southeast of the disaster area on Tuesday.
Aerial footage televised in the immediate aftermath of the tornado showed large swaths of Moore - a 55,000-person Oklahoma City suburb - flattened, with sporadic fires breaking out amid the wreckage.
At least 24 people have been confirmed dead, according to the latest estimate as authorities indicated an early total of 51 may have been inaccurate, the result of double counting. The state medical examiner's office was told to expect 40 additional bodies, Reuters reports, but the bodies had not arrived by Tuesday morning.
KWTV reported Tuesday morning that the official confirmed death count was revised down from 51 to 24 by the medical examiner, citing office spokesperson Amy Elliott. U.S. News was unable to immediately reach the medical examiner's office for confirmation.
Among the reported dead are children, including young students of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. NBC News reports that seven children drowned in a pool of water at the school, citing the medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City.
Another school, Briarwood Elementary School, was also destroyed by the storm, but all children and staff members survived, KFOR-TV reports.
More than 100 people are being treated for injuries as rescue and recovery operations continue in Moore.
The Moore Medical Center, a 100-physician hospital in the town, was hard hit by the tornado. A photo tweeted by Oklahoma's chapter of the American Red Cross shows the hospital building, which looks like a charred shell. Miraculously, all patients and personnel at the hospital were accounted for after the storm, The Oklahoman reports.
Other residents weren't so fortunate. KFOR-TV reports that four family members, including a baby, died after seeking shelter inside a freezer.
The tornado was on the ground for approximately 40 minutes, touching down first near Newcastle, Okla., before travelling northeast to Moore, according to the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla. It came amid a barrage of tornadoes that ravaged the central part of the country Monday.
A tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service 16 minutes before the tornado developed. The twister was given a preliminary EF4 rating, meaning winds topped off at around 200 mph.
The tornado that hit Moore immediately elicited comparisons to the destructive May 3, 1999, tornado that followed a similar path as it swept through the city and adjacent Oklahoma City suburbs, killing 36 people.
A Tuesday forecast by the National Weather Service says that areas of northeastern Texas, northwestern Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma have a 10 percent likelihood of being within close range of a tornado Tuesday.
The NWS Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., "is forecasting the development of tornadoes... large hail and damaging winds over parts of the southern plains and the ArkLaTex region later today and tonight," says a message splashed at the top of the weather service's website.