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Massive tornado rips through Moore, Oklahoma; 51 killed, more feared dead

A woman carries a child through a neighborhood leveled by a tornado in Moore, Okla., May 20, 2013. (Sue Ogrock A devastating, mile-wide tornado touched down near Oklahoma City on Monday, killing at least 51 people and decimating homes, businesses and a pair of elementary schools in the suburb of Moore. According to the state's medical examiner, the death toll was expected to rise. The schoolsPlaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementarywere leveled by the tornado. It was unclear how many children were in them at the time the twister hit, but according to KFOR-TV, at least seven children died at Plaza Towers, and as many as two dozen more were feared to be trapped inside the rubble. An Associated Press photographer saw rescue workers pull several children out alive. A makeshift triage center was set up in the school's parking lot. "This is war-zone terrible," Jon Welsh, a helicopter pilot for KFOR who lives in Moore, said while surveying the damage from the air. "This school is completely gone." Emergency officials urged people to remain off the roads so rescue workers and first responders could reach people potentially trapped in rubble, as the National Guard was called in to help in the search for victims. Three people were killed at a 7-Eleven in the path of the storm, CBS' KWTV reported, including a man, woman and baby who took cover in a freezer but didn't survive. KFOR reported a fourth person was killed there.

Tornado damage seen in Moore, Okla., May 20, 2013. (KFOR-TV) The funnel cloud could be seen for miles, creating a debris field several miles wide. According to the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., the tornado was on the ground for approximately 40 minutes, and a tornado warning was in effect for 16 minutes before the twister developed. Weather officials estimated the strength of the tornado to be an F4 or F5 on the Fujita Scale, the highest rating a tornado can achieve. The National Weather Service said the tornado's preliminary classification was an F4, with winds up to 200 mph. On May 3, 1999, a tornado outbreak near Oklahoma City produced 14 tornadoesincluding an F5 in Moorekilling 36 people and injuring 295 others. A host on KFOR called Monday's storm "the worst tornado damage-wise in the history of the world." The devastated area covered 30 square miles. Communication was snarled as landlines and cellphone towers were knocked down. A water treatment plant in Oklahoma City was also damaged. President Barack Obama directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prepare to get "all available assistance" to the disaster-hit area, the White House said. The 106-acre Orr Family Farm was completely destroyed, killing between 75 and 100 horses, KFOR reported. Families of potential victims were directed by the Red Cross to a websitesafeandwell.orgfor information about survivors. Another, smaller tornado was spotted on the ground west of Meeker, Okla., north of Shawnee, on Monday. The Oklahoma House of Representatives canceled its afternoon sessions so lawmakers and staffers could take shelter, the AP said. The tornadoes came a day after powerful storms ripped through the center of the country, spawning at least a dozen tornadoes, killing two people and causing extensive damage from Georgia to Minnesota.