The injured flooded into hospitals and the authorities said many people remained trapped even as rescue workers struggled to make their way through debris clogged streets to the devastated suburb of Moore where much of the damage occurred.
Amy Elliott the spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City medical examiner said at least 91 people had died including the children and officials said that toll was likely to climb. Hospitals reported at least 145 people injured 70 of them children.
Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was reduced to a pile of twisted metal and toppled walls. Rescue workers were able to pull several children from the rubble but on Monday evening crews were still struggling to cut through fallen beams and clear debris amid reports that dozens of students were trapped. At Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City on the border with Moore cars were thrown through the facade and the roof was torn off.
Numerous neighborhoods were completely leveled Sgt. Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department said by telephone. Neighborhoods just wiped clean.
He said debris and damage to roadways along with heavy traffic were hindering emergency responders as they raced to the affected areas.
A spokeswoman for the mayor s office in Moore said emergency workers were struggling to assess the damage.
Please send us your prayers she said.
Brooke Cayot a spokeswoman for Integris Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City said 58 patients had come in by about 9 p.m. An additional 85 were being treated at Oklahoma University Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
They ve been coming in minute by minute Ms. Cayot said.
The tornado touched down at 2 56 p.m. 16 minutes after the first warning went out and traveled for 20 miles said Keli Pirtle a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Norman Okla. It was on the ground for 40 minutes she said. It struck the town of Newcastle and traveled about 10 miles to Moore a populous suburb of Oklahoma City.
Ms. Pirtle said preliminary data suggested that it was a Category 4 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale which measures tornado strength on a scale of 0 to 5. A definitive assessment will not be available until Tuesday she said.
Moore was the scene of another huge tornado in May 1999 in which winds reached record speeds of 302 m.p.h. and experts said severe weather was common in the region this time of year.
But the region has rarely had a tornado as big and as powerful as the one on Monday.
Television on Monday showed destruction spread over a vast area with blocks upon blocks of homes and businesses destroyed. Residents some partly clothed and apparently caught by sur prise were shown picking through rubble. Several structures were on fire and cars had been tossed around flipped over and stacked on top of each other. Kelcy Trowbridge her husband and their three young children piled into their neighbor s cellar just outside of Moore and hud dled together for about five minutes wrapped under a blanket as the tornado screamed above them debris smashing against the cellar door.
They emerged to find their home flattened and the family car resting upside down a few houses away. Ms. Trowbridge s husband rushed toward what was left of their home and began sifting through the debris then stopped and told her to call the police.
He had found the body of a little girl about 2 or 3 years old she said.
He knew she was already gone Ms. Trowbridge said. When the police got there he just bawled.
She said My neighborhood is gone. It s flattened. Demolished. The street is gone. The next block over it s in pieces.
Nick Oxford reported from Moore and Michael Schwirtz from New York. Leslie Metzger and Kathleen Johnson contributed reporting from Norman Okla. and Dan Frosch from Denver.