There are now conflicting reports on the death toll in the wake of a massive tornado that churned through Oklahoma City Monday, with the state medical examiner’s office reportedly downgrading the number from 51 to 24.
Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, said Tuesday that some deaths in the previous figure may have been double-counted, Reuters reports.
Earlier in the day, Elliott said 51 people were confirmed dead, at least twenty of them children. She said officials could see as many as 40 additional fatalities.
Local news reports, citing officials, also say the death toll could top 90. KFOR reports that the current death toll is 91, but that number is not yet confirmed.
The storm decimated scores of buildings in Moore, a community of 41,000 people about 10 miles south of Oklahoma City. Block after block lay in ruins. Homes were crushed into piles of broken wood. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
More than 120 people were being treated at hospitals, including about 50 children.
Search and rescue crews were looking for anyone who may be trapped in the rubble. Many land lines to stricken areas were down, and cell phone networks were congested. The storm was so massive that it will take time to establish communications between rescuers and state officials, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said.
Fallin deployed 80 National Guard members to assist with rescue operations and activated extra highway patrol officers. She also spoke with President Obama, who declared a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Families anxiously waited at nearby churches to hear if their loved ones had survived. A man with a megaphone stood Monday evening near St. Andrews United Methodist Church and called out the names of surviving children. Parents waited nearby, hoping to hear their sons’ and daughters’ names.
While some parents and children hugged each other as they reunited, others were left to wait, fearing the worst as the night dragged on.
“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.