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Inquirer Editorial: Tornadoes tag young and old

Ah! what would the world be to us If the children were no more?    - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ah! what would the world be to us

If the children were no more?

Tragedies are always made worse when children are involved. The thought of unfulfilled dreams falling victim to premature death can melt even the coldest heart. So it was Monday, as news traveled of children dying inside an elementary school where they sought shelter from an Oklahoma tornado.

Initial reports of 91 deaths, including more than 20 children, were reduced significantly Tuesday, but the exact number was still being determined as rescue workers continued to search for bodies. "Our hearts are just broken for the parents," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

The killer storm wasn't totally unexpected. Tornadoes had hit Oklahoma on Sunday, leaving a swath of damage and at least two dead, and more twisters were predicted - but not with such ferocity.

The National Weather Service categorized the tornado that leveled much of Moore, Okla., as a powerful EF5, packing winds of up to 200 miles an hour. Another tornado struck the same suburban Oklahoma City area on May 3, 1999, destroying homes and businesses and killing 44 people.

Weather service forecasters told the Daily Oklahoman that warnings issued Monday included the rare term "tornado emergency," just as in 1999, to get people to pay attention. "It's very rare that we will use that term," said meteorologist David Andra. "It's kind of our highest level of urgency."

But there still wasn't much time to react. One observer said the twister developed within 30 minutes of the arrival of a severe thunderstorm shortly before 3 p.m., and that it was gone within 45 minutes. The tornado left a debris path several blocks wide stretching for at least 20 miles. Power lines were toppled and gas lines ruptured, causing fires.

Now comes the recovery. President Obama has ordered disaster aid for Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Thunder basketball star Kevin Durant pledged $1 million Monday toward Red Cross relief efforts, as did the utility Chesapeake Energy. The Oklahoma Red Cross asks people to donate $10 by texting "Red Cross" to 90999.

There will be no full recovery for families who lost a loved one in the storm, no replacement of a child who died. But questions can be answered and steps taken to lessen the likelihood of fatalities the next time a tornado drops from the sky. And, unfortunately, there will be a next time in the part of America that's come to be known as Tornado Alley.