MOORE (AP) Helmeted rescue workers raced Tuesday to complete the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives, including those of nine children.
Scientists concluded the storm was a rare and extraordinarily powerful type of twister known as an EF5, ranking it at the top of the scale used to measure tornado strength. Those twisters are capable of lifting reinforced buildings off the ground, hurling cars like missiles and stripping trees completely free of bark.
Residents of Moore began returning to their homes a day after the tornado smashed some neighborhoods into jagged wood scraps and gnarled pieces of metal. In place of their houses, many families found only empty lots.
After nearly 24 hours of searching, the fire chief said he was confident there were no more bodies or survivors in the rubble.
"I'm 98 percent sure we're good," Gary Bird said at a news conference with the governor, who had just completed an aerial tour of the disaster zone.
Authorities were so focused on the search effort that they had yet to establish the full scope of damage along the storm's long, ruinous path.
They did not know how many homes were gone or how many families had been displaced. Emergency crews had trouble navigating devastated neighborhoods because there were no street signs left. Some rescuers used smartphones or GPS devices to guide them through areas with no recognizable landmarks.
The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion.
By Tuesday afternoon, every damaged home had been searched at least once, Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building to be certain there were no more bodies or survivors.
The fire chief was hopeful that could be completed before nightfall, but the work was being hampered by heavy rain. Crews also continued a brick-by-brick search of the rubble of a school that was blown apart with many children inside.
No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Bird said.
Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm's wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones.
Chelsie McCumber grabbed her 2-year-old son, Ethan, wrapped him in jackets and covered him with a mattress before they squeezed into a coat closet of their house. McCumber sang to her child when he complained it was getting hot inside the small space.
"I told him we're going to play tent in the closet," she said, beginning to cry.
While people from far and wide are anxious to try and help the victims affected by Monday's disastrous tornado in Moore, some of Lawton's finest have already been there and are waiting for their call to go back again.
According to various wire reports, the tornado resulted in over 200 injuries or fatalities and left a path of destruction about a mile wide and nearly 20 miles long as it made its trip across the Moore area Monday afternoon. By 5 p.m., 43 firefighters with the Lawton Fire Department were already at the disaster area or enroute with trailers of tools to assist crews with the debris and rubble, which LFD Maj. Daryl Nobis said is unlike anything he has ever seen before.
"You just couldn't tell where one (house) started and another ended," Nobis said of the disaster debris.
The assistance teams stayed for about 12-14 hours, returning to Lawton around 5 a.m. Tuesday. Nobis said the firefighters divided up into four smaller groups of about 10 men, when they arrived. When they first arrived, crews were asked to respond to the area of of Southwest 4th Street and Telephone Road in order to clear various buildings near a heavily-damaged area, which included the Warren Theatre, the Moore Medical Center, a bowling alley, post office and bank among the structures.
An image of cars stacked into a small mountain of twisted metal at the medical center was broadcast during evening newscasts across the country. Nobis said Lawton crews helped dig through that pile to ensure nobody was inside.
Nobis said the bowling alley had luckily closed at 3 p.m., but he still was part of a team that crawled through tunnels in the debris to ensure nobody was there. While there always remains a distant possibility some nook or tiny cranny remains unchecked, he said he was fairly confident nobody was inside.
"We worked the '99 tornado in Moore, the Oklahoma City Bombing, a lot of areas, and just the scale of this disaster is disturbing," Nobis said. "It just goes on and on and on and on. It was worse than Joplin."
After their initial responses in the business areas, Nobis said the men divided
With nerves already on edge after the Moore tragedy on Monday, Tuesday's early-morning storm in the Cement, Cyril and Fletcher area had residents jittery.
Unlike in Moore, no injuries were reported, but there was plenty of property and tree damage.
Cement Fire Chief Matt Crawford said whether is was a small tornado or high straight winds, many trees were downed and roofs damaged. He described the damage, which was townwide, as "not minor, but not major either."
"ONG had to come in and shut down a natural gas line due to a gas leak," Crawford said, and people living in 10 or 12 apartments were evacuated for about an hour because of the leak.
Electrical service was also knocked out by the early morning storm.
The Anadarko Fire Department sent five firefighters, a truck and an ambulance, and the Apache Volunteer Fire Department sent three firefighters and a truck to help go door to door in the town with 500 residents to make sure everyone was OK, Crawford said.
"Compared to Moore, this is just a little brush," he said.
Fletcher, which is south of Cement, was also hit by the same storm system. Police Chief Jon Shepard said a storm came through Fletcher about 5:20 a.m. from the north to the south. Damage was primarily on Cole Avenue, which is the town's main street, and at the fairgrounds.
"One building was completely destroyed" at the fairgrounds Shepard said. "A large sliding door from the destroyed building, which weighed at least 200 pounds, was found across the street and down about two blocks.
"The door had either been thrown over two houses and large trees or between the houses and the trees," he said.
The following locations are among those that will be accepting local donations today to be taken to disaster relief teams in Moore. Readers can like "The Lawton Constitution" Facebook page for updates on donation drop-off locations.
American Red Cross, Great Plains Service Center No. 6 E. Lee Boulevard, 355-2480. The American Red Cross is requesting monetary donations only. Designated donations may be made online at www.redcross.org/charitable-donations. Individuals may also donate $10 by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999.
The Salvation Army, Lawton Corps 1306 SW E, 355-1802. The organization requests water bottles, Gatorade, baby diapers, baby wipes and work gloves. Designated donations may also be made online at www.salvationarmyusa.org. A $10 donation can be made by texting "STORM" to 80888.
Townsquare Media Sam's Club, 802 N. Sheridan Road, 581-3600. Townsquare, with help of trucks donated by Comanche Home Center, will collect items from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Requested items include shovels, work gloves, booths, trash bags, sunscreen, Gatorade, snacks and toiletries. Monetary donations designated to Moore disaster relief will be collected on behalf of the American Red Cross.
Centenary United Methodist Church 704 SW D, 355-5660. Items will be collected from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and should be delivered to the church's west entrance. Designated monetary donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief may also be made online at www.umcor.org. A $10 donation may be made by texting "RESPONSE" to 80888.
Magic 95 Cache Road Square, 3801 Cache Road, 536-9530. Items will be collected from noon to 4 p.m. Magic 95 is collecting for the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army requests bottled water, nonperishables, diapers, wipes and money.
Orange Leaf 3414 Cache Road, 581-2001. Orange Leaf requests first aid supplies, blankets, travel containers, bottled water, toiletries and other items to be delivered to Moore this weekend. The frozen yogurt shop will also donate 25 percent of sales from Wednesday through Friday to benefit Convoy of Hope, an organization helping victims in Moore.
First Christian Church 701 SW D, 355-2437. Items will be collected from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from the west entrance. Items will be delivered to Moore on Thursday.
Southwest Oklahomans are joining in a statewide effort to help the residents of Moore recover from Monday's tornado.
At daybreak Tuesday, Lawton's Red Cross sent its first local disaster relief team to Moore. The team of seven emergency-ready, trained volunteers was made up of case workers, shelter workers, response specialists and distributors of medical and health supplies. They were team leader Donna Penland and team members Amanda Riddle, Vernon Uplinger, Rovena Keck, Angie Clemons, Barbara Curry, Denise Taylor and Judith Nelson.
"They will be assisting with immediate on-site disaster relief, doing things such as working in the shelters for lost children and adults who are missing family members, working cases and assisting with monetary and insurance assistance, and distributing the thousands of gallons of water and unending amounts of food that have been donated," said Kim O'Brien, disaster response specialist at the Red Cross Great Plains Service Center in Lawton.
"I'm thankful I have the opportunity to work with such amazing volunteers," she said. "The extreme generosity and willingness to help that has come from the Lawton and Fort Sill area is absolutely tremendous and overwhelming. We've had monetary donations pouring in from almost everywhere, along with the Oklahoma Blood Institute starting blood drives all over the state to assist with the medical relief assistance that Moore needs during this time."
So many volunteers have offered to help that some agencies are asking would-be helpers to provide assistance through other means.
The Oklahoma Blood Institute had seen a large increase in numbers of blood donors in the last month, and especially the past week, in preparation of bad weather and destruction.
"We have had tremendous amounts of help as far as blood donation is concerned over the past 48 hours, but can always accept more," said Darren Coats, executive director of the blood institute. "We ask that you go to blood donation sites throughout the city and the state, instead of coming to the (Lawton)b lood institute because of the vast amounts of people we have had coming in to donate. We simply do not have a large enough staff on hand at the Lawton institute to handle the numbers of people who have been wanting to donate. We greatly appreciate the donors, as do the patients in Moore."
Rains that fell across Southwest Oklahoma the past few days brought a slight rise in water levels and elevations to most area lakes that have been long-suffering for water during the prolonged drought.
Tom Steed Reservoir near Mountain Park in Kiowa County reported a water level of 33.85 percent and an elevation of 1,399.13 feet Tuesday compared to a water level of 32.04 percent and elevation of 1,398.68 feet as of May 13.
Will Archer of the Mountain Park Master Conservancy District said the lake received about .60 of an inch of rain from the storm along with some pea-sized hail. "The lake has come up sixth-tenths of a foot," he said. "That doesn't seem like much but it's still an awful lot of water. We're going in the right direction."Tom Steed is the major water source for the cities of Snyder, Altus and Frederick."
Archer said that each of the three cities has reduced water usage from the lake compared to the same period a year ago.
Lake Lugert-Altus near Lone Wolf in Greer and Kiowa counties reported a water level of 16.77 percent and an elevation of 1,532.33 feet Monday compared to a water level of 16.54 percent and elevation of 1,532.20 feet May 13.
"We need a lot more to fill the lake a big rain for our watershed. I'm not sure what we'd call normal right now. It's varied so much over the last few years," said Allen Ensley of the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District.
Nine Lawton elementary schools will return from summer break to different principals in the fall.
The Lawton Public Schools Board of Education approved principal assignments for the next academic year during a regular meeting Tuesday night.
• Sullivan Village Elementary School will now have Sylvia Moore, currently principal of Eisenhower Elementary, as its principal. Sullivan Village's current principal, Jeannie Alldredge, is retiring after the current year.
• Lincoln Elementary School will be helmed by newly-promoted principal Dara Gee, formerly the LPS literacy coach, who will replace retiring Lincoln principal Robbie Gillis.
• The new principal at Whittier Elementary will be Melanie Nunnguesser, formerly a teacher at teacher at Crosby Park Elementary, who was recently promoted. The current principal of Whittier, Brenda Hatch, will be LPS' executive director of elementary education next school year.
• Karen Cooksey, the principal of Sheridan Road Elementary this year, will be the principal of Pat Henry Elementary next year. The current principal of Pat Henry, Jackie Herbert, is retiring.
• Cheryl Scammahorn, principal of Woodland Hills Elementary, will become the principal of Sheridan Road Elementary this fall.
• Tammi Barrett, principal of Wilson Elementary, will be the principal of Eisenhower Elementary School.
The annual Yellowfish Family Reunion Powwow scheduled for Saturday in Apache, has turned into a benefit to help the family of Richard Komah, who lost their home and property to Monday's tornado.
Komah and his wife Maxine Whitehorse Komah, and their two grandchildren, whom they are raising, were hunkered down in their storm cellar when the EF5 tornado hit their neighborhood head-on, leaving the family with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
"We had a family meeting and it was decided our annual family powwow will be a benefit powwow to help Richard and his family," said Sandra Gallegos.
The powwow will begin at 2 p.m. at the Comanche Nation Community Center in Apache. Gourd dancing will kick off the powwow, with grand entry at 7 p.m., followed by dance contests in all age categories. Special contests will take place that include a Lulu Contest, Switch Dance Contest, and a Prettiest Shawl Contest.
The Comanche County Hospital Authority Board of Trustees approved the applications of seven new staff members and the voluntary resignation of three members Tuesday afternoon, said Randy Segler, Comanche County Memorial Hospital chief executive officer.
Dr. Ed Henson, pediatrician; Joy Englund, advanced registered nurse practitioner; and Dr. Jonathan C. Rock, radiologist, now have privileges at Memorial, as do four emergency room physicians Doctors Benjamin Godfrey, Damien Kinzler, Brett Propes and John D. Wells.
"Henson will work part time at the Lawton Community Health Center," Segler said.
CACHE Students in one Cache Middle School class are studying international issues of historic significance as part of their coursework as well as learning skills they can apply to their core classes.
The World Conflict class at CMS is taught by Nolan Watson and includes students in grades seven and eight.
"From a teacher's standpoint, this class is a study of many things," he said. "It gives them a tremendous amount of confidence."
Watson said some of the core skills students build include character, leadership and courage.
"It goes across the curriculum," he said. "They learn a new vocabulary and a lot about different cultures."
Watson said the class is more than just another history class.
"It is a study of people, nations and conflict, as not everybody gets along," he said.
Zulu War of 1879 One of the major assignments recently undertaken was a briefing on the Anglo-Zulu War of January 1879 between Britain and the Zulu in South Africa. That war included the Battle of Isandlwana and the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Although both the British and Zulu forces scored a number of victories and defeats, both forces suffered from many casualties and in the end the British won the war despite being outnumbered by the Zulu forces. The Zulu Kingdom would ultimately fall in later years.
"The British won and the war went on after the Battle of Rorke's Drift and ended at the Battle of Ulundi with the capturing of the Zulu king," said student Ethan Spires. "This gave the British the Zulu Kingdom area which became a part of South Africa."
Despite the Zulu forces' best efforts including the strategic use of spears and taking of rifles from dead British soldiers the Zulu forces were also brought down as they felt it was best for them to fight out in the open, according to student Graydon Carroll.