THIS was the trail of destruction left behind by the tornado that devastated large parts of Oklahoma.
Emergency crews searched the remnants of suburbs for survivors of the massive tornado that flattened homes and demolished an elementary school. Authorities last night lowered the confirmed death toll to 24, from 51, but warned those numbers could climb.
Some victims are believed to have been counted twice in the early chaos of the storm, said Amy Elliot, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office. Downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem, she said. The death toll included at least nine children.
The ferocious storm, clocking winds of up to 320kph ripped through the town of Moore in a central region of the US, known as Tornado Alley, reducing homes to piles of splintered wood. Less than 1pc of all tornadoes reach such wind speed.
In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged urgent government help.
"In an instant, neighbourhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured," Obama said. "Among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew – their school."
The storm left scores of blocks barren and dark in Moore, a community of 41,000 people 16km south of Oklahoma city.
New search-and-rescue teams moved at dawn yesterday, taking over from the 200 or so emergency responders who worked all night.
A helicopter shone a spotlight from above to aid in the search.
Fire Chief Gary Bird said fresh teams would search the whole community at least two more times to ensure that no survivors – or any of the dead – were overlooked.
Crews painted an 'X' on each structure to note it had been checked.
More than 200 people had been treated at area hospitals.
Other search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary.