Medical examiner: 24 dead in Oklahoma twister

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Emergency crews combed

the sticks and rubble remains of an Oklahoma City suburb Tuesday morning

less than

a day after a massive tornado slammed through the community,

flattening homes and demolishing an elementary school. At least

24 people were killed, including at least seven children, and

those numbers were expected to climb.

As the sun rose over the shattered community of Moore, the state medical examiner's office cut the estimated death toll by

more than half.

Spokeswoman Amy Elliot said she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm that struck Monday

afternoon. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said.

"It was a very eventful night," Elliot said. "I truly expect that they'll find more today."

Authorities initially said as many as 51 people were dead, including 20 children.

New search-and-rescue teams moved in as dawn broke Tuesday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who scoured

the neighborhood all night with a helicopter shining a spotlight from above to aid their search.

Fire Chief Gary Bird said the fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors

— or victims — were missed. They were painting an 'X' on each structure to note it had been checked.

"That is to confirm we have done our due diligence for this city, for our citizens," Bird said.

By early Tuesday, the community of 41,000 people, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City, braced for another long, harrowing day.

"As long as we are here ... we are going to

hold out hope that we will find survivors," said Trooper Betsy Randolph,

a spokeswoman

for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children.

Search and rescue teams continued their

desperate efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary, where the storm ripped off

the school's

roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of

twisted plastic and metal as students and teachers huddled

in hallways and bathrooms.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she watched up close late Monday as rescuers tried to find people in the wreckage of the school.

"It was massive destruction last night," Fallin said in an AP interview Tuesday. "It was an incredible sight to see how big

the debris field was and how much destruction there was. It would be remarkable for anyone to survive."

Children from the school were among the

dead, but several students were pulled out alive from under a collapsed

wall and other

heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a

human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents

carried children in their arms to a triage center in the parking

lot. Some students looked dazed, others terrified.

Officials were still trying to account for a handful of children not found at the school who may have gone home early with

their parents, Bird said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second

most powerful type of twister. It estimated that the twister was at least half a mile wide.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman,

Okla., forecast more stormy weather Tuesday, predicting golf ball-sized

hail, powerful

winds and isolated, strong tornadoes in parts of Texas, Arkansas,

Louisiana and Oklahoma. The area at risk does not include

Moore.

In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through

the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, awnings and glass all over the streets.

Monday's powerful tornado loosely followed

the path of a killer twister that slammed the region with 300 mph winds

in May

1999. It was the fourth tornado to hit Moore since 1998. It also

came almost exactly two years after an enormous twister ripped

through the city of Joplin, Mo., killing 158 people and injuring

hundreds more.

That May 22, 2011, tornado was the deadliest

in the United States since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950,

according

to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Before

Joplin, the deadliest modern tornado was June 1953 in Flint,

Mich., when 116 people died.