Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin opens press conference updating the public on the latest confirmed information and ongoing search-and-rescue efforts.

"We will get through this," Gov. Fallin said.

Throughout the press conference, officials advised residents to contact FEMA or visit OKStrong (http://www.ok.gov/okstrong/) for assistance.

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Local hospital officials say they've treated more than 200 patients, including dozens of children, since a tornado ripped through suburban Oklahoma City.

President Barack Obama also held a morning news conference in Washington, D.C., vowing that the government would help Oklahomans as they recover and rebuild.

"Oklahoma needs to get everything it needs right away," President Obama said. "Our prayers are with Oklahoma. We will back up those prayers with deeds as long as it takes."

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Crews are searching through the wreckage of a massive tornado that ripped through an Oklahoma City suburb Monday as survivors are trying to find out if their loved ones are alive.

The twister killed at least 24 people, and demolished an elementary school. The number was revised down from earlier reports, the AP reported, because some victims were countd twice. As many as 40 more fatalities were expected.

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THE 200-MPH killer tornado that blasted through the Oklahoma City suburbs yesterday afternoon came with such little warning that grown-ups at two besieged elementary schools flung themselves atop schoolchildren in a frantic bid to shield them from the swirling cloud of twisted metal and splintered wood.

"She was on top of me," a sixth-grader named Brady told local TV station KOCO after surviving in the demolished Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, when his mom, a teacher, shielded him from the falling debris. "She was able to take care of me."

Another teacher at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in hardest-hit Moore, Okla., threw himself atop three students before he was removed from the rubble on a stretcher.

They were fortunate to get out alive. Authorities said last night that at least 51 people - including 20 children, according to the New York Times and CNN - were killed by the massive tornado that cut a mile-wide path of death and destruction just south of Oklahoma City.

Rescuers were said to be searching for as many as 20 to 30 more children and teachers who were still missing as darkness fell across the Oklahoma prairies. And dozens of the injured and the dazed - including at least 50 children - swarmed local hospitals.

"It just breaks your heart," said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, who represents the area, once worked as a groundskeeper and more recently campaigned for votes at the school in Moore. He told CNN that teachers and students at the school did everything right, but with such a powerful tornado, "even if you do everything right, there's not a lot you can do."

Even in an age when killer storms like last fall's Superstorm Sandy seem to be multiplying, the shocking pictures out of Moore last night transfixed a nation that watched live TV newscasts and exchanged prayers and storm warnings over Twitter and other social media. Aerial shots of the sprawling suburb of roughly 55,000 showed block after block completely leveled as if an atomic bomb had struck.

Hundreds of firefighters clad in yellow picked their way through a 10-foot-high pile of twisted siding and scattered cinder blocks that was the Plaza Towers school, desperately seeking survivors.

As car alarms echoed from crushed vehicles and smoke billowed from distant fires, dazed residents of Moore wandered a hellscape of unrecognizable streets unable to find even their homes, let alone missing loved ones.

Many said they were simply stunned by the extent of the destruction, even though Moore had been whacked four separate times by major tornadoes in the past 15 years - including a 1999 twister with 300-mph winds that remains the most powerful storm in recorded history.

TV news reporters struggled to come up with the right metaphor to describe the extent of the devastation - CNN's Gary Tuchman reported that it looked like "a combination of Iraq and Japan after the tsunami."

The carnage in Oklahoma came just two days before the second anniversary of the deadliest tornado in U.S. history since modern tornado record-keeping began in 1950, the massive May 22, 2011, twister that killed 158 people in Joplin, Mo.

Last night, meteorologists said the tornado that touched down at roughly 2:53 p.m. local time (3:53 p.m. in Philadelphia) was an EF4, which is the second-highest rating for a twister, with speeds up to 200 mph and the ability to flatten homes. Residents and meteorologists said the storm appeared to be at least a half-mile wide and stayed on the ground for roughly 22 miles, which would explain the monumental extent of the destruction.

Residents of Moore and the surrounding communities had only about 12 to 15 minutes of warning, not enough time to quickly evacuate schools like Plaza Towers. Older students hustled to a nearby church, but younger kids stayed behind with teachers.

"This one hit during the daytime when we had kids in school, and that is something we have never had to deal with before," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told CNN last night.

In Washington, the White House moved quickly, with President Obama assuring Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin that the federal government would provide extensive emergency assistance. Fallin had already called up National Guard troops to work alongside rescue dogs in a massive search-and-rescue operation that was centered on the collapsed school.

The state was on high alert already because storms on Sunday had killed two people near Shawnee, about 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City.

Yesterday, several children were pulled alive from the rubble at the flattened school in Moore. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain to the triage center in the parking lot.

James Rushing, who lives across the street from the school, heard reports of the approaching tornado and ran to the school, where his 5-year-old foster son, Aiden, attends classes. Rushing believed he would be safer there.

"About two minutes after I got there, the school started coming apart," he said. Some students were placed in the restroom for safety as walls collapsed and the roof caved in.

Another local TV station, KFOR, reported that four people, including a 7-month-old baby, were killed inside a Moore 7-Eleven convenience store that was leveled by the storm. Reporter Meg Alexander said the victims apparently died while trying to take shelter in the store's freezer.

The tragedy in Oklahoma sent shock waves through Philadelphia.

Danelle Stoppel, a volunteer mental-health supervisor with the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, was slated to leave at 6:30 a.m. this morning. It will be Stoppel's 13th disaster deployment in just two years volunteering with the organization, helping her earn the nickname "Deployment Danelle."

"My role is a transition role. My role is that I understand what's happened to them and I understand that they are faced with having to do it again - get another home," said the 67-year-old Fairmount resident.

Stoppel, who was also deployed to Boston following the marathon bombings, experienced a bit of deja vu when she got the call to deploy yesterday - on her birthday. It was two years ago to the day she was called to deploy to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after a tornado destroyed much of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham and killed 64 people.

"Tornadoes, unfortunately, are very, very difficult things to see," she said. "It's devastation. It's almost something you can't describe."

- Staff writer Solomon Leach and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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