MOORE, Okla. (AP) -- A monstrous tornado as much as a mile wide roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods with winds up to 200 mph, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.
There were no confirmed injuries or deaths, but the storm laid waste to scores of buildings in Moore, south of the city. Block after block of the community lay in ruins, with heaps of debris piled up where homes used to be. Cars and trucks were left crumpled on the roadside.
The National Weather Service issued an initial finding that the tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, the second most-powerful type of twister.
In video of the storm, the dark funnel cloud could be seen marching slowly across the green landscape. As it churned through the community, the twister scattered shards of wood, pieces of insulation, awnings, shingles and glass all over the streets.
Volunteers and first responders raced to search the debris for survivors.
At Plaza Towers Elementary School, the storm tore off the roof, knocked down walls and turned the playground into a mass of twisted plastic and metal.
Several children were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to a triage center in the parking lot.
James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching tornado and ran to the school, where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.
"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said.
The students were placed in the restroom.
"There's no safe room in the school. There will be," said Rushing, who said his home was virtually destroyed.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson said downed power lines and open gas lines posed a risk in the aftermath of the system.
The same suburb was hit hard by a tornado in 1999. That storm had the distinction of producing the highest winds ever recorded near the earth's surface - 302 mph.
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STORM FOLLOWED 1999 PATH
NEW YORK (AP) -- Monday's powerful tornado in suburban Oklahoma City loosely followed the path of a killer twister that slammed the region in May 1999.
The National Weather Service estimated that the storm that struck Moore, Okla., on Monday had wind speeds of up to 200 mph, and was at least a half-mile wide. The 1999 storm had winds clocked at 300 mph, according to the weather service website, and it destroyed or damaged more than 8,000 homes, killing at least two people.
Kelsey Angle, a weather service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo., said it's unusual for two such powerful tornadoes to track roughly the same path. The 1999 twister was part of a two-day outbreak sweeping mostly across central Oklahoma - similar to the past two days.
The weather service has tentatively classified the Moore twister's wind speeds as an EF4 on a 5-point scale. Angle said less than 1 percent of all tornadoes reach EF4 or EF5.
The thunderstorm developed in an area where warm moist air rose into cooler air. Winds in the area caused the storm to rotate, and that rotation promoted the development of a tornado. The most destructive and deadly tornadoes develop from rotating thunderstorms.
The biggest known tornado was nearly 2 1/2 miles wide at its peak width, which the weather service describes as near the maximum size for a tornado. It struck Hallam, Neb., in May 2004.
The deadliest tornado, which struck March 18, 1925, killed 695 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
Deaths from twisters have been declining in recent years because of improved forecasts and increased awareness by people living in tornado-prone areas, especially in smaller and rural communities.