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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK

World: Americas

Search for tornado victims

The tornadoes destroyed entire neighbourhoods

Rescue workers in Oklahoma and Kansas are still searching the rubble of thousands of homes for more victims of the tornadoes in the American Midwest.

Tom Carver in Oklahoma City: A prosperous suburb has been turned into a battle zone
At least 43 people died and hundreds more were injured when 76 tornadoes swept through five states.

The scale of the devastation was stunning, with trees and power lines snapped, entire neighbourhoods flattened, schools, homes and offices turned into rubble and cars and trucks tossed into the air.

[ image: The tornadoes left a trail of destruction]
The tornadoes left a trail of destruction
In Oklahoma City, 1,500 homes were levelled by a single tornado that cut a 19-mile (30 km) long, half-mile-wide swathe through the city. The area has been sealed off.

Police and National Guard troops enforced an all-night curfew to prevent possible looting.

Officials say more than 500 people were injured in the two states.

Weather experts say the twisters could have been force five tornadoes whose winds start at more than 260mph (400 kph) and can top 300 mph (480 kph).

Rescue workers using dogs and heavy equipment are sifting through the wreckage, a slow process likely to continue throughout the week.

Weather forecasters have warned that there could be more tornadoes on the way.

Help pours in

President Clinton declared 11 Oklahoma counties disaster zones, in the hope of speeding federal aid to the affected areas.

[ image:  ]
And the head of the Federal Emergency Management, James Witt, who toured devastated areas at the president's request, said it was too early to estimate the damage in cash terms.

"It's incomprehensible, it's indescribable. It's a statement of total devastation and agony suffered by a lot of wonderful people," said Mr Witt.

Thousands of people spent the night in 10 temporary shelters set up by the American Red Cross.

The tragedy unleashed an outpouring of generosity as hundreds of people rushed to donate blood as well as canned food, clothes and toiletry items.

[ image:  ]
"This has obviously touched a lot of people. Even people from as far away as Nebraska, Texas and Missouri have offered help," said Kelly Drawdy, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army.

More than 50,000 people were left without power for most of Tuesday, but the number dropped to 20,000 by late afternoon.

Insurance losses

As rescue workers combed through the debris, insurance companies anticipating drastic losses began to evaluate the damage.

The size and ferocity of the storms led many to believe the losses will be the steepest ever caused by a tornado - more than $1.3bn.

"I don't remember any [claims] as devastating as this one seems to be," said John Eager, director of claims services for the National Association of Independent Insurers.

The tornado outbreak on Monday was the nation's deadliest since 42 people were killed last year in Florida.

It was also the deadliest to hit Oklahoma since 1947, when a tornado killed 113 people.

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Internet Links

Tornado Project Online

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