x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rescuers comb Oklahoma tornado rubble for buried survivors

Rescuers are using sniffer dogs and searchlights to pick through the wreckage of a massive tornado to ensure no survivors remain buried.

Rescuers search building-to-building for victims a day after a massive tornado tears through Moore, Oklahoma.
Rescuers search building-to-building for victims a day after a massive tornado tears through Moore, Oklahoma.
MOORE, Oklahoma // Rescue workers with sniffer dogs and searchlights picked through the wreckage of a massive tornado to ensure no survivors remained buried in the rubble of primary schools, houses and buildings in an Oklahoma City suburb.
The massive tornado on Monday afternoon flattened entire blocks of the town, killed at least 24 people and injured about 240 in Moore, Oklahoma.
But as dawn approached yesterday, officials were increasingly confident that everyone caught in the disaster had been accounted for, despite initial fears that the twister had claimed the lives of more than 90 people.
Jerry Lojka, spokesman for Oklahoma Emergency Management, said search-and-rescue dog teams would search for anybody trapped under the rubble, but that attention would also be focused on a huge clean-up job.
"They will continue the searches of areas to be sure nothing is overlooked," he said. "There's going to be more of a transition to recovery."
More than 1,000 people had already registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which sent hundreds of workers to Oklahoma to help with the recovery.
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said many more likely needed help but did not have working phones or internet connections.
"Right now it's about getting people a place to stay that have lost their homes," he told MSNBC's Morning Joe programme. "So we're going to start going neighbourhood to neighbourhood and talking to people and seeing what they're going to need."
After a long day of searching through shattered homes that was slowed by rainy weather on Tuesday, Oklahoma County commissioner Brian Maughan said it seemed no one was missing.
"As far as I know, of the list of people that we have had that they are all accounted for in one way or another," he said.
Dog teams and members of the National Guard were changing shifts to work through the night.
Nine children were among the 24 killed, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit by the deadliest tornado to strike the United States in two years.
Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the debris of homes, schools and a hospital after the tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City region with winds exceeding 320 kilometres per hour, leaving a trail of destruction 23km long and 2km wide.
Plaza Towers Elementary was one of five schools in its path. "They literally were lifting walls up and kids were coming out," Oklahoma State Police Sergeant Jeremy Lewis said. "They pulled kids out from under cinder blocks without a scratch on them."
The National Weather Service upgraded its calculation of the storm's strength on Tuesday, saying it was a rare EF5, the most powerful ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale
The last time a giant twister tore through the area, on May 3, 1999, it killed more than 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. That tornado also ranked as an EF5.
Oklahoma Emergency Management's Mr Lojka said 2,400 homes were damaged or obliterated and an estimated 10,000 people affected.
Mr Fugate, the Fema administrator, told CNN the agency had enough money to pay for Oklahoma's recovery while still rebuilding in the North-east from Superstorm Sandy. Fema had US$11.6 billion (Dh42.6bn) in its disaster relief fund, a spokesman said.
The death toll was lower than might have been expected given the extent of the devastation in Moore, home to 55,000 people. Some ascribe the relatively low number to the fact many locals have small "storm safe" shelters, basically a concrete hole in the garage floor with a sliding roof that locks.
US Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said many people built cellars and safe areas after the 1999 tornado in Moore. "There would have been a lot more people killed, we believe, if they had not had that warning 14 years ago," he said Tuesday on CNN.
Billy McElrath, 50, of Oklahoma City, said his wife hid in a storm safe in their garage when the tornado hit.
She emerged unhurt even though the storm destroyed the 1968 Corvette convertible she had bought him as a birthday present, and crushed a motorcycle. "Everything else is just trashed," he said as he loaded a pickup with salvaged goods.
Kraig Boozier, 47, took to his own small shelter in the Westmoor subdivision of Oklahoma City and watched in shock as a fan in the wall was ripped out.
"I looked up and saw the tornado above me," he said.
When he came out after the storm, he helped a neighbour who had emerged from her own shelter move a car that was blocking the entrance to another neighbour's shelter.
Officials said another factor behind the surprisingly low death toll was the early warning, with meteorologists saying days in advance that a storm system was forming.