Rescue efforts are proceeding after a deadly tornado tore through an Oklahoma City suburb, with dozens feared dead. The storm destroyed entire blocks of homes and trapped dozens of school children beneath debris.
Rescuers were working to reach survivors after a tornado with winds reaching speeds of up to 200 mph (320 kilometers) devastated the city of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City, on Monday.
The official death toll was put at 24 on Tuesday, including seven children. That number had been revised down from an earlier figure of 51, which had included fatalities that were counted twice.
The state medical examiner earlier gave an estimate that the storm may have killed up to 91 people in all.
President Barack Obama promised all necessary government resources would be made available for the rescue effort. "The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, beside them, for as long as it takes," Obama said.
Video footage showed the dark grey funnel tearing through the Midwest region known as "Tornado Alley," shattering homes and spinning up shards of wood, glass and shingles into the air.
Less than 1 percent of all tornados reach the speed of Monday's storm in Moore, which destroyed multiple city blocks and crumpled cars and trucks. The National Weather Service estimated the twister reached a width of up to a half mile (.8 kilometers) and was an EF-4 on the Fujita scale, the second-most powerful type of tornado.
First responders were converging on what remained of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where over two dozen children remain missing. Working into the night, rescuers used jackhammers and sledgehammers to make their way through the debris. Several children were pulled alive from the rubble.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said at a press conference that "hearts are broken" for parents looking for their children.
"We've had a massive tornado, a huge one that has passed through this community," Fallin said. "We know there are a lot of injuries. We know we've lost a tremendous amount of structures throughout this community and throughout the state."
More storms predicted
Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines remained a danger Monday night.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the area and called Fallin to express his concern over the tornado, the White House said, adding that he has directed the government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide any assistance she needs.
Multiple storms in the Midwest Sunday spawned tornados in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, killing at least two people and prompting Fallin to declare a state of emergency in 16 of her state's counties. On Monday, Fallin extended the state of emergency to five more counties.
The National Weather Service said the probability of more tornados was high as the storm made its way east, forecasting severe weather in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.
Moore was also hit by a record-breaking tornado in 1999. That storm, which killed 44 people, had the highest winds ever recorded at the earth's surface at 302 mph.
dr, rc/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)