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Entire neighborhoods were left in ruins by the 2-mile-wide tornado. (Paul Hellstern / The Oklahoman / AP Images)

Major Tornado Hits Oklahoma

A powerful twister destroys whole communities around Oklahoma City

By Tyrus Cukavac | May 21 , 2013
<p>TOP PHOTO: The twister ranked as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale—the second-highest category of tornado. (Alonzo Adams / AP Images) </p><p> BOTTOM PHOTO: Emergency workers rescue a student at a school that was almost completely destroyed. (Sue Ogrocki/AP Images) </p><p> MAP: The tornado cut a 20-mile path of destruction. (Jim McMahon)</p>

TOP PHOTO: The twister ranked as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale—the second-highest category of tornado. (Alonzo Adams / AP Images)

BOTTOM PHOTO: Emergency workers rescue a student at a school that was almost completely destroyed. (Sue Ogrocki/AP Images)

MAP: The tornado cut a 20-mile path of destruction. (Jim McMahon)

A devastating tornado ripped through the outskirts of Oklahoma City yesterday afternoon. The twister, which was 2 miles wide, touched down at 2:54 p.m. local time, causing chaos for 40 minutes. It left behind a 20-mile path of destruction.

Hundreds of homes were totally destroyed by the powerful storm. Streets were littered with tossed cars and the remains of ravaged buildings.

“Numerous neighborhoods were completely leveled,” Sergeant Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department told The New York Times. “Neighborhoods just wiped clean.”

Emergency workers immediately began searching for people who were hurt or missing in the wreckage left by the storm. Dozens were injured and more than 20 were killed. Some of the victims were students at an elementary school in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City that was hit hard.  The school was destroyed, but emergency workers were able to rescue many of the children and bring injured people to hospitals.

DISASTER RELIEF

Crews are still working hard to clear debris and look for more missing people. Thunderstorms, damaged roads, and heavy traffic have been making their jobs difficult. But the workers will continue searching.

“As long as we are here . . . we are going to hold out hope that we will find survivors,” Betsy Randolph, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, told the Associated Press.

President Barack Obama declared the area a federal disaster area. This means that the federal, or national, government can now send aid money to the counties affected by the storm.

He also promised that the country would stand by Oklahoma during the painful process of re-building. “There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms and classrooms,” the President said at a press conference. “And in time, we’re going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community.”

A FORCE OF NATURE

Tornadoes are complex weather events that form inside thunderstorms. These powerful twisters are shaped like funnels and made of swirling air. A tornado’s winds are capable of reaching speeds of up to 40 to 300 miles per hour.

Tornadoes are not uncommon in Oklahoma, which lies in a part of the country known as Tornado Alley. But this tornado was stronger and more destructive than most.

Scientists measure tornadoes using the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. It categorizes twisters based on the amount of damage they cause and the estimated wind speed. Yesterday’s twister in Oklahoma was rated as an EF-4—the second-highest category of tornado. It’s wind speed was estimated to have been between 166 and 200 miles per hour.

Tornadoes can strike with little warning. Here are some important tips that can help keep you safe if you find yourself facing this deadly force of nature.

  • The most important thing to do is find shelter! If you’re in a mobile home, get out as soon as possible and find shelter in a permanent building.
  • Go to the lowest floor in the building (a basement is best), and try to put as many walls as possible between you and the tornado. Closets or bathrooms make good safe spots. Lying flat in a bathtub can also protect you.
  • If you can’t find shelter, get as far away as you can from trees and other heavy objects. Lie flat on low ground and cover your head with your hands.
Click here for a video from the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps about disaster preparedness.

TEACHERS: Click here for collection for more resources on how to help students cope with natural disasters.

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