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Search for survivors continues in Oklahoma tornado disaster

Updated at 10:00 p.m. — 
A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile wide with winds up to 200 mph roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, landing a direct...
A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile...

Updated at 10:00 p.m. — 

Rescue crews continue to search for survivors under a fresh crop of poor weather raining down on the tornado-ravaged Oklahoma town of Moore Tuesday, with the toll of injured victims still on the rise.

Less than 24 hours after a massive tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City suburb, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin estimates that over 237 have been injured in what could be among the deadliest tornadoes in the nation’s history, but the full scope of loss of life and the number of missing persons remains unknown.

“It’s been a very trying couple of days for the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a very sad time for us because we’ve experienced one of our most horrific storms and disasters that our state has ever faced.”

The Oklahoma medical examiner confirmed 24 are dead—including nine children—a revision down from its initial death toll of 51 victims. As of late Tuesday morning, the medical examiner’s office had identified a “majority” of fatalities, spokesperson Amy Elliot said.

One of the dead is Hemant Bhonde, 65, who was killed in his home. His wife survived. A 9-year-old girl, Ja'Nae Hornsby, was the first of the dead to be identified. Her body was found in the Plaza Towers Elementary school.

Search efforts continued Tuesday morning as rescue workers cleared away damage from the tornado that carved a 20-mile path through Oklahoma. Forecasters warned that more "devastating" tornadoes were possible Tuesday, putting major cities in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas at risk.

Within the immediate aftermath of the tornado blast, President Obama declared Oklahoma a federal disaster zone and pledged aid for rescue efforts, calling the twister "one of the most destructive in history."

"As a nation, our full focus now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of rebuilding and recovering that lies ahead," Obama said during a Tuesday morning press conference.

The president pledged to provide the state of Oklahoma and the town of Moore with "all resources they need at their disposal."

The White House on Tuesday approved the state’s request for federal aid which will provide disaster assistance to individuals and business owners from the five counties hardest hit by a rash of severe weather that hit Oklahoma over the weekend. The state legislature is also prepping legislation to tap the state’s “rainy day funding,” Fallin said, following up the Republican governor’s executive order to expedite utility service repairs to the region.

The tornado began at about 3 p.m. Monday and lasted approximately 40 minutes, Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross said. The National Weather Service classified the storm as the second-strongest type—an EF4—registering winds of 166 to 200 mph.

Two elementary schools–Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore–were in the direct path of destruction. The tornado tore off the roof of Plaza Towers, where officials said seven children drowned in a pool of water.

This is not the first major tornado to reach historic proportions in Oklahoma. On May 3, 1999, a twister the clocked-in the fastest winds ever reported on Earth ripped through Oklahoma City, killing 36.

“I never thought I’d see anything worse than I saw in 1999, this is our fourth [tornado] in 15 years,” Rep. Tom Cole said of his hometown Tuesday. “This is even worse in terms of loss of life, and I’ve been talking to friends and family and officials on the ground and that number is gonna get worse.”