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Okla. storm was more powerful than atomic bomb

MOORE, Okla. -- Rescue workers Tuesday raced to complete the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives.

Scientists concluded the storm Monday was a rare and extraordinarily powerful type of twister known as an EF5, with winds of least 200 mph capable of lifting reinforced buildings off the ground, hurling cars like missiles and stripping trees completely free of bark.

Several meteorologists said the energy released during the storm's life span dwarfed that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 -- with estimates ranging from 8 times to more than 600 times more powerful.

Residents of Moore began returning to neighborhoods smashed into jagged wood scraps and gnarled pieces of metal. In place of their houses, many families found only empty lots.

Fire Chief Gary Bird said he was "98 percent sure" there are no more bodies or survivors in the rubble. The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion.

Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm's wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones.

Chelsie McCumber grabbed her 2-year-old son, Ethan, wrapped him in jackets and covered him with a mattress before they squeezed into a coat closet in their house. McCumber sang to her child when he complained it was getting hot inside the small space.

"I told him we're going to play tent in the closet," she said, beginning to cry.

"I just felt air so I knew the roof was gone," she said Tuesday, standing under the sky where her roof should have been. "When I got out, it was worse than I thought," she said.

President Barack Obama pledged to provide federal help and mourned the death of young children who were killed while "trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew -- their school." The town of Moore "needs to get everything it needs right away," he said Tuesday.

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