MOORE, Okla. - 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.
Urban Search and Rescue workers comb through debris Tuesday, at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla. following Monday's massive tornado. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds.
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. More than 200 people were treated at area hospitals.
By Tuesday afternoon, every damaged home had been searched at least once, Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building just 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.