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Survivors pulled from Oklahoma tornado debris

Emergency workers pulled more than 100 people from debris, lowering the death toll.

The suburb of Moore in Oklahoma was reduced to rubble after a massive tornado hit on 20 May 2013. Picture: Nicholas Oxford via twitter

OKLAHOMA - Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the rubble of homes, schools and a hospital in an Oklahoma town hit by a powerful tornado, and officials lowered the death toll from the storm to 24, including nine children.

The 3km wide tornado tore through Moore outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, trapping victims beneath the rubble, wiping out entire neighbourhoods and tossing vehicles about as if they were toys.

Seven of the nine children who were killed died at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit, but many more survived unhurt.

"They literally were lifting walls up and kids were coming out," Oklahoma State Police Sergeant Jeremy Lewis said. "They pulled kids out from under cinder blocks without a scratch on them."

The Oklahoma state medical examiner's office said 24 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, down from the 51 they had reported earlier. The earlier number likely reflected some double-counted deaths, said Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer for the medical examiner.

"There was a lot of chaos," she said.

Thunderstorms and lightning slowed the rescue effort on Tuesday, but 101 people had been pulled from the debris alive, Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph said. "We are absolutely positive that there are still people that could be trapped under the rubble and in shelters," Randolph said.

The National Guard and firefighters from more than a dozen fire departments as well as rescuers from other states worked all night under bright spotlights trying to find survivors.

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