The Storm Prediction Centre warned the town of Moore to get ready, but video of the destruction shows how helpless we are in the path of a tornado’s force.
The Plaza Towers primary school has been described as the strongest building in the area, but when the children followed their teachers’ instructions, many of them became victims caught in a deadly trap.
A shaken Becky Nelson, hard at work in Search And Rescue, said: “All of the children were in the main hallway, which is where they were supposed to be during their tornado drills, and the roof collapsed on top of them. And they suspect water pipes broke and the children drowned because they couldn’t get up from the debris.”
Experts said the EF4 category tornado had winds of up to 320 kmph. Emergency services were relieved to find that some deaths had been counted twice and so numbers were revised downward.
Young Caden said: “I was on the ground and I just my ears just went ‘beeeep’ and I couldn’t hear anything except cracking and kids screaming.”
Eight-year-old Kye told reporters: “I just couldn’t see anything and it was just all loud and I could barely hear stuff.”
The boy’s mother said: “No doubt that God – and his teacher… I mean, they lifted a wall off of these kids, several kids!”
A mother clutching her little girl safe and sound said: “They were in the hallways, heads down, doing everything that they knew to do. But her best friend is still [in] there.”
Moore was also hit 14 years ago. It lies in Tornado Alley, an unofficial term for a strip from Texas up to South Dakota where tornadoes are the most common in the US.
A distraught grandmother described her family’s efforts: “The kids were on lockdown. [We] went to get them and the doors were locked so we couldn’t. We’re having a hard time finding transportation to get to school, so we don’t know.”
Josiah – age eight – and some other children don’t know if their parents are safe.
Josiah said: “If my mom and dad are still alive, they’re probably going to take us to a hotel until our house is rebuilt.”
After the 1999 tornado, specially-built safe rooms became more common here; even those could only offer limited defences against nature.