A rescue worker checks the rubble in a residential area in Moore, Oklahoma May 21, 2013 after a massive tornado struck the area May 20. 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 May 20, and officials lowered the death toll from the storm to 24, including nine children. REUTERS/Richard Rowe (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
MOORE, Okla. -- 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 2-mile wide tornado tore through Moore outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon, trapping victims beneath the rubble, wiping out entire neighborhoods and tossing vehicles about as if they were toys.
About 237 people were injured and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said the death toll could rise from the deadliest tornado to hit the United States in two years.
"There may have been bodies that may have been taken to local funeral homes," Fallin said.
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.
The National Guard, firefighters from more than a dozen fire departments and rescuers from other states worked all night under bright spotlights trying to find survivors in the town of 55,000 people.
Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird vowed at a news conference to search through every damaged building "at least three times," as authorities urged people to stay away from the area to allow rescue workers to complete the search.
President Barack Obama declared a major disaster area in Oklahoma, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in Moore after the deadliest U.S. tornado since 161 people were killed in Joplin, Mo., two years ago.
"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes," Obama said at the White House.
Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore, said the whole town looked like a debris field and there was a danger of electrocution and fire from downed power lines and broken natural gas lines.
"It looks like we have lost our hospital. I drove by there a while ago and it's pretty much destroyed," Lewis told NBC.