Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 37 Dead, 'Horrific' Damage

Good Morning America
Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 51 Dead, 'Horrific' Damage
Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 51 Dead, 'Horrific' Damage (ABC News)

A mammoth tornado carved a trail of destruction through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, killing at least 37 people and ripping apart two elementary schools today, local authorities said.

David Barnes, the director of Oklahoma Emergency Management in Oklahoma County, told ABC News that a single twister tore through homes from Newcastle to Moore, a path of 12 miles. The damage was "widespread" and people's homes were completely destroyed, all the way to their foundations, he said.

At least 37 people have been confirmed dead in the storm's aftermath, according to the Oklahoma chief medical examiner's office.

"It is absolutely devastating, this is horrific," Oklahoma Lt. Gov Todd Lamb said. "We're going to have fatalities. ... We're going to have significant injuries. ... We just don't know what those numbers are. Schools have been hit, a hospital has been hit, businesses have been flattened, neighborhoods have been wiped away -- we don't have the numbers in yet but it is going to be significant and it is going to be horrific."

The National Weather Service said the preliminary rating of the Newcastle-Moore tornado was at least EF-4, meaning wind speeds of up to 200 mph.

"We probably had five tornadoes [tonight]," said NOAA spokeswoman Keli Pirtle in Norman, Okla.

Authorities said Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Okla., received a "direct hit" from the storm and was severely damaged. In anticipation of the severe weather this afternoon, schools in the Moore area did not release their students at the end of the school day, according to Oklahoma Emergency Management officials.

One sixth grade boy named Brady told ABC affiliate KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City that he and other students took cover in a bathroom.

"Cinderblocks and everything collapsed on them but they were underneath so that kind of saved them a little bit, but I mean they were trapped in there," he said.

Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was also in the monster twister's path and was wiped out, along with nearby homes. Local residents who lived near the school rushed to help pull kids and teachers out.

PHOTOS: Oklahoma Tornado Levels Towns

Moore resident Melissa Newton said the hail from the tornado was "about the size of golfballs."

The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for the Oklahoma City metropolitan area at 3:01 p.m., warning that significant damage and fatalities were likely.

At least 105 people have been admitted to area hospitals as more people emerged from the rubble. Moore Medical Center, the only hospital in Moore, sustained major damage and was evacuating all of its patients to other hospitals.

The Oklahoma University Medical Center in downtown Oklahoma City had received 85 patients, 65 of which were children. Integris Southwest Medical Center in downtown Oklahoma City, said it received 33 patients, including three children.

First responders were reportedly having trouble reaching Moore, which has a population of about 56,300 people, because people were stuck in their cars on the highway.

"We've got so many people that are all on the interstate that we can not get our emergency responders to the scene because we've got so many people tied up in traffic on I-35," said Betsy Randolph of the State Highway Patrol.

This twister was the latest in a group of violent storms that swept through the Midwest, starting Sunday, that has left at least two people dead and dozens more injured.

On Sunday, a tornado ripped through Shawnee, Okla., killing a 79-year-old man near a mobile home park that was reduced to rubble, according to Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth.

Twisters, hail and high winds also struck Iowa and Kansas as part of a devastating, northeastward-moving storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota. Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma were ravaged by 50 tornadoes this weekend.

Moore was the site of one of the most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history. On May 3, 1999, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City area, killing 42 people.

ABC News' Mike Boettcher, Howard Price, Dan Childs, Anthony Castellano and ABC News Radio contributed to this report.