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Oklahoma rescuers comb through tornado wreckage for survivors

Updated May 21, 11:27pm ET

Updated May 21, 11:27pm ET

Rescue crews continued to dig through piles of wreckage Tuesday looking for survivors after a monstrous tornado wiped out large portions of an Oklahoma City suburb, leaving thousands homeless.

Tuesday morning, the medical examiner gave the official death toll as 24 – including nine children-- but the number of fatalities were expected to climb further as the day goes on. More than 50 deaths were initially reported, but the medical examiner revised that figure. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin estimated more than 237 were injured, but the full scope of the disaster remains unknown.

“It’s been a very trying couple of days for the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said during a press conference Tuesday. “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.”

After surveying the damage, the National Weather Service upgraded the level of the storm’s severity to an EF-5 – the highest category– with estimated winds topping more than 200 miles per hour.

Authorities have been working round-the-clock searching for victims since Monday afternoon’s tornado stretching nearly a mile wide crushed homes, businesses and schools in its path. So far, workers have pulled more than 100 from the rubble. Cadaver dogs have been used to locate victims among the fields of debris. Volunteers have been going building-to-building, pile-to-pile, marking leftover structures with orange spray paint to indicate whether bodies remained inside. Poor weather conditions in the area have been making the search that much harder.

Forecasters warned tornadoes were possible Tuesday in the surrounding area like Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Two elementary schools–Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore–were in the tornado’s direct path. Officials confirmed seven children drowned in a pool of water at Plaza Towers.

Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore, told msnbc's Lawrence O'Donnell that “we’re still going through debris, we’re still looking for people." He also noted that rescue teams have found people in the rubble "that are okay," but overall "it's quite a mess."

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, President Obama called Gov. Fallin, promising federal support in the relief effort. He declared the area a federal disaster zone to help mobilize money and recovery workers.

“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 Tuesday. He vowed to provide the town of Moore with “all resources they need at their disposal.”

On May 3, 1999, a tornado of historic proportions ripped through Oklahoma, killing 36. That twister generated the fastest winds ever recorded on Earth--318 miles per hour--and caused nearly $1.5 billion in damage.