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Agony for parents as search for children goes on


A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school.  AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school. AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school. AP Photo/The Oklahoman, Paul Hellstern)

THE parents and guardians stood in the muddy grass outside a suburban Oklahoma City church, listening intently as someone with a bullhorn called out the names of children who were being dropped off – survivors of yesterday's deadly tornado.

For many families in Moore, the ordeal ended in bear hugs and tears of joy. Others were left to wait in the darkness, hoping for good news while fearing the worst.

At least 20 children are among the more than 50 reported dead so far in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by a tornado with winds of up to 200mph and damaged two elementary schools. Workers could be seen after midnight at one school sifting through rubble. Officials early this morning said the death toll could rise by as many as 40.

At the church where the surviving children were being taken, parents stared into the distance with worry as they waited, some holding the hands of young children who were missing siblings.

Tonya Sharp and Deanna Wallace sat at a table in the church's gymnasium waiting for their teenage daughters. As Sharp and Wallace spoke, a line of students walked in.

Wallace spotted her 16-year-old daughter, who came quickly her way and jumped into her mother's arms, pushing her several steps backward in the process. But Sharp didn't see her daughter, a 17-year-old who has epilepsy. She worried her daughter hadn't taken her medicine.

"I don't know where she's at," Sharp said. Later, she went to speak to officials who helped her register so she could be notified as soon as her daughter was found.

Murray Evans stayed home from work to be close to his children's school because he knew storms were coming.



"I knew they were talking about a tornado," Evans said in a phone interview. "You kind of think about those things and plan ahead of time. People here are very weather-aware."

When the storm hit, Evans rushed to Oakridge Elementary where his nine-year-old son, Conrad, and seven-year-old daughter, Lexi, attend. He said a long line of parents were there picking up their kids. They made it home, but not before spotting the funnel cloud.

Shelli Smith also had to walk miles to find her children. She was reunited with her 14-year-old daughter, Tiauna, around 5pm, but hadn't yet seen her 16-year-old son, TJ, since he left for school yesterday morning.

TJ's phone had died, but he borrowed a classmate's phone to tell his mother where he was. However, Smith couldn't get to him due to the roadblocks. So she parked her car and walked several miles.

It took her three hours, but a little after sunset, she found him. She grabbed her son and squeezed him in a tight hug that lasted for several seconds before letting go. TJ hugged his sister, and then hugged his mom again.

Renee Lee summed up the struggle for many parents with multiple children – find the ones they hadn't yet seen, while calming the younger ones they had with them.

Lee is the mother of two daughters Sydney Walker (16) and Hannah Lee (8).

Hannah was safe and Lee said she believed Sydney wasn't hurt, and she seemed resigned to the severe weather outbreaks.

"There's been so many of them, it doesn't even faze me," she said. "You just do what you gotta do. It's part of living here."