As many as 37 people have been reported dead after a gigantic tornado more than three km (1.8 mi.) in diameter ravaged the area south of Oklahoma City on Monday, destroying or heavily damaging numerous homes and at least schools, according to media reports.
Local KFOR television reported that four people had died, among them a boy, while CNN and NBC reported that there had been 10 fatalities.
While the state’s medical examiner’s office is reporting 37 fatalities with the death toll expected to rise.
Images of the devastation broadcast by KFOR show serious damage to many homes and at least two schools, while emergency teams are looking for survivors and additional bodies in the area.
It is feared that there may be people trapped in the ruins of their homes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center initially estimated that the tornado was a category EF4, the second most powerful category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, packing winds of up to 320 kph (about 200 mph).
The KFOR television images show a panorama miles long of destroyed homes along the track of the tornado, and active fires can be seen blazing in some of the ruins, especially in the central areas of the towns of Newcastle and Moore, both south of Oklahoma City.
One of the experts at NOAA, Bill Bunting, told CNN that the agency hoped that all local residents had paid attention to the recent tornado alerts but evidently not all people in the heavily populated region had gotten the word that a storm was threatening the area.
Meanwhile, the White House issued a statement saying that President Barack Obama was closely following developments via his National Security assistant, Lisa Monaco.
The immense and deadly tornado developed at the height of tornado season just hours after other such storms hit the state, killing at least two people, injuring at least 39 and destroying some 300 homes.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared 16 counties disaster areas.
Heavy storms have been hitting the central United States over the past few days, bringing tornadoes to the area, and the storm alert issued by authorities extends across a vast area from Texas up to the Great Lakes.
NOAA on Monday issued tornado alerts in the region, especially in the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.