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.
Cherish Alridge told Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist David Chandley the storm leveled parts of her neighborhood and met the storm face to face.
“I don't even know how I made it into the house. I don't even know how I'm alive," Alridge said.
Alridge told Chandley she has lived in her family home her whole life, but not anymore. She said she feels for her neighbors who have even less.
"They were getting in the car to leave, and I was walking inside the house and the tornado is coming right down the street. And it literally picked me up off the street. And I just fell straight on the ground in the mud," Alridge said.
Chandley also ran into former Kennesaw resident Kelly Damphousse, who also had a first encounter with the twister. He was making a delivery to a storage unit when the storm hit.
“While I was unloading my sister-in-laws furniture, she's moving up from College Station, Texas, up to Norman, here and she's moving next to us, so we were right in the middle of unloading it, when one of my friends called me, or actually texted me and said there's a tornado coming your way," Damphousse said.
He showed Chandley pictures of the punctured truck that was left after the storm hit.
Damphousse, like Alridge, said it’s the sound they’ll never forget.
“It was about 20-30 seconds where the house just shook and you could just hear the debris just hitting and cars going off. And then we went outside and everything was just a complete disaster," Alridge said.
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.
Moore has been one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Oklahoma City, attracting middle-income families and young couples looking for stable schools and affordable housing. The town's population has grown over the last decade as developers built subdivisions for people who wanted to avoid the urban problems and schools of Oklahoma City but couldn't afford pricier Norman, the college town next door.
Many residents commute to jobs in Oklahoma City or to Tinker Air Force Base, about 20 minutes away.