At least 51 people — including seven children at an elementary school — were killed when a massive tornado struck an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, officials said.
Authorities said that Plaza Towers elementary school in Moore took a direct hit from the tornado. The winds whipped off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
Rescue workers passed surviving children down a human chain to a triage center in the parking lot.
James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching tornado and ran to the school, where his five-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. “About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart,” he told the Associated Press.
Local reports said 75 children and staff were in the school at the time, some of whom were feared trapped in the rubble. KFOR reporter Lance West, who was on the scene, said he saw 30 children being pulled out alive.
Emergency services struggled to get to the badly hit areas because of damage to infrastructure and debris on roads. TV footage showed volunteers helping first-responders search rubble for survivors in Moore. Cars, homes and even schools appeared to have been destroyed. Sporadic fires broke out in the aftermath of the storm and thousands of properties remained without power.
Oklahoma City police captain Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the tornado.