News Column

'Time Just Stood Still' as Tornado Hit

May 22, 2013

The massive tornado that ripped a swath 1.3 miles wide and 17 miles long through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday killed at least 24 people, including nine children, officials said as the initial search for the dead and living wrapped up.

Fire Chief Gary Bird said he is "98 percent sure" there are no more survivors or bodies to recover. Every damaged home had been searched at least once, Bird said, and his goal was to conduct three searches to be sure.

Scientists said the tornado was a rare EF5, the most powerful on the scale used to rank twisters, with winds of at least 200 mph.

After an aerial tour of the devastation, Gov. Mary Fallin said many houses were "taken away," leaving "just sticks and bricks, basically. It's hard to tell if there was a structure there or not."

Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm's wrath. Chelsie McCumber grabbed her 2-year-old son, Ethan, wrapped him in jackets and covered him with a mattress before they squeezed into a closet.

"Time just kind of stood still" in the closet, she recalled. "I was kind of holding my breath thinking this isn't the worst of it. I didn't think that was it. I kept waiting for it to get worse."

"When I got out, it was worse than I thought," she said.

Seven of the nine dead children were killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, but several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers.

Residents had about 16 minutes notice of the twister. MIT-trained meteorologist Josh Wurman, founder of the Center for Severe Weather Research, said scientists still don't have a clear understanding of what turns a supercell thunderstorm into a catastrophic tornado but his group recently theorized that a surge of cool dry air coming out of the storm could be a triggering mechanism. Understanding the trigger, he said, could more accurately predict where tornadoes will develop -- the false alarm rate for tornadoes now is 75 percent.

"If we could make the alarm rate lower and, in addition, make the lead-time longer, maybe people would take more deliberative action," Wurman said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Source: Copyright Boston Herald (MA) 2013


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