News

May 21, 2013
 

Death Toll From Devastating Tornado Revised Down

tornado

 Mark Memmott and EYDER PERALTA

A day after a monster EF-5 tornado pummeled Moore, Okla., the focus turned to the victims.

NPR’s Wade Goodwyn spent the day in the city talking to survivors. Christie Parrish decided to leave her home for her sister’s shelter.

“You could hear [the tornado] like a mile away and it sounded like this roar, and you could just hear it and feel the debris hitting our shelter and we came out and you could see smoke form our neighborhood and I got over there and there’s nothing there,” she said.

She saw rescuers digging through the rubble that became of the house next door. She thought, that like she was doing, rescuers were searching for pets.

They weren’t.

Instead, they pulled out the lifeless body of Parrish’s neighbor, who they later learned had her little boy ripped out of her arms.

“It is an emotional gauntlet survivors here are moving through,” Wade reported for All Things Considered. “At first there is the titillating excitement of a massive storm bearing down on your town but you expect to be OK. Then comes apprehension as the storm turns directly towards you. Then absolute terror as your life hangs in the balance. As you step out of the shelter or the closet or the bathroom back into the day, there’s a flood of relief and joy. But that quickly turns to shock and horror as the devastation around you and the horrible turn fate has dealt you makes itself at home.”

Early this morning, we got a glint of good news from officials. After beginning the day with word that at least 51 people had been killed and that the number of dead might top 90, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office said that the official death toll was 24 — a figure that could still change. The fatalities included at least 9 children. The spokeswoman, Amy Elliott, said during a televised news conference the initial number included some victims who were counted twice.

Elliott was asked if she expected rescue workers to find more victims.

“I pray that there’s not, but I feel that there is,” Elliott said.

The new information did not change the fact that the cost — in lives and damage — from the storm is expected to rival that from a tornado that devastated the same part of the nation in May 1999. That twister left behind “46 dead and 800 injured, more than 8,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and total property damage of nearly $1.5 billion,” as NOAA has reported. In fact, as the National Weather Service received field reports, it upgraded the tornado to a top-of-the-scale EF-5, meaning it had winds in excess of 200 mph.

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