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Death Toll From Devastating Tornado Revised Down

(We're following the news from Oklahoma, where a tornado devastated the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday. Most recent update: 12:59 a.m. ET.)

While the number of deaths and amount of damage caused by a huge tornado that tore through Moore, Okla., on Monday remain high, state officials announced just after 9 a.m. ET Tuesday that fewer people than feared may have lost their lives.

After beginning the day with word that at least 51 people had been killed and that the number of dead might top 90, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office said that the official death toll was 24 — a figure that could still change. The fatalities included at least 9 children. The spokeswoman, Amy Elliott, said during a televised news conference the initial number included some victims who were counted twice.

That downward revision was a glint of good news about a tragic act of nature. With the new information, we removed our original headline ("Death Toll Climbing In Oklahoma Tornado Tragedy") and updated the top of this post.

Elliott was asked if she expected rescue workers to find more victims.

"I pray that there's not, but I feel that there is," Elliott said.

The new information did not change the fact that the cost — in lives and damage — from the storm is expected to rival that from a tornado that devastated the same part of the nation in May 1999. That twister left behind "46 dead and 800 injured, more than 8,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and total property damage of nearly $1.5 billion," as NOAA has reported.

At the White House, President Obama said at mid-morning that the nation's prayers are with the people of Oklahoma and that the federal government will have its resources on the ground there for "as long as it takes" to help the community get back on its feet.

Tuesday was also bringing incredible stories — some of survival, some of heartbreaking loss.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported that 4th, 5th and 6th graders attending Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School had been evacuated to a nearby church, where they found shelter. "Kindergarteners through 3rd grade children hunkered down at the school," Wade reported. At least seven children died in the destroyed school's basement. Searchers were continuing to look for more victims.

Meanwhile, forecasters are warning that more severe weather is possible in the area Tuesday — and across much of the nation's midsection. According to the National Weather Service, the threat extends "from the Great Lakes across the Mississippi River Valley and into central Texas." What to watch for: "very large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes."

As we reported Monday, President Obama has signed a disaster declaration late Monday, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area.

We'll be following the news as the day continues. So hit your refresh button to make sure you're seeing our latest updates. We'll add related posts as well. Note: As happens during news events such as this, there will be information that later proves to have been incorrect — as has happened with the initial reports from officials about the death toll. We'll focus on what's being reported by NPR and other news trusted news outlets, and on information provided by officials with direct knowledge of the situation. If some information proves to have been wrong, we'll correct the record and explain what happened.

Update at 1:13 p.m. ET. 17-Mile Path:

The National Weather Service's Norman, Okla. office tweets:

"Survey crews indicate tornado began 4.4 mi W of Newcastle, and ended 4.8 mi E of Moore, with an approx tornado path length of 17 mi. #okwx"

Update at 12:48 p.m. ET. Flags Half-Staff:

House Speaker John Boehner has ordered the flags at the Capitol to fly at half-staff.

"Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm, especially our colleague Tom Cole," Boehner said in a statement to press. "Moore, Okla. is his hometown, so obviously he's there, and so I've ordered the flags this morning to be lowered to half-staff in honor of those who've suffered through this terrible storm."

Update at 11:11 a.m. ET. 9 Children Dead:

Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner, said during a televised news conference that nine children are among the 24 who are dead.

Elliott explained that without cell phones, some officials may have double counted fatalities when they reported them over two-way radios. That explains the higher number officials were reporting through the night.

She said that seven of the nine children were found in one elementary school and two others were found elsewhere.

Elliott was asked if she expected rescue workers to find more victims.

"I pray that there's not, but I feel that there is," Elliott said.

Update at 10:10 a.m. ET. Obama: "As Long As It Takes."

"The people of Moore should know that the country will remain on the ground there for them, [and] beside them, as long as it takes," President Obama just said at the White House.

He said the federal government is putting "all the resources that they need at their disposal."

"Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today," the president added. "We will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes."

Update at 10 a.m. ET. At Least 7 Children Killed:

The 24 confirmed fatalities include at least 7 children, state medical examiner's office spokeswoman Amy Elliott tells The Associated Press.

President Obama is due to address the nation in the coming minutes.

Update at 9:30 a.m. ET. Official Death Toll Revised Down:

A glimmer of good news: State officials now say there are 24 confirmed deaths, not the 51 they reported earlier. Apparently, some victims may have been counted twice.

Update at 9:15 a.m. ET. Survivor's Missing Dog Is Found As TV Crew Is Filming:

There will be many emotional stories of survival and family members finding each other in the aftermath of the storm. As one TV crew was interviewing Barbara Garcia of Moore, she talked of huddling in her home with her dog — and losing hold of the pet when the tornado destroyed the house.

As Garcia was speaking, the schnauzer was spotted under some debris. Their reunion is touching. As Garcia says, one of her prayers was answered.

Another nice moment in the interview: The reporter asks Garcia if she can comprehend what happened. "I know exactly what happened here, exactly," says Garcia, with the seasoned voice of someone who lives in tornado alley.

Update at 8:40 a.m. ET. No Official Update Yet On Death Toll:

Though a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office has warned that the death toll may top 90, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) just told CNN that she does not have "an updated number at this point in time."

"We have a lot of different moving parts" and officials want to be careful about releasing such figures, she added. So the official death toll remains at 51.

Update at 8:30 a.m. ET. Governor To Be Part Of News Conference.

From Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's Twitter page:

"Gov Fallin and @cityofmoore officials will hold a noon press conference at the #MooreOK City Hall today to discuss recovery efforts"

That's 1 p.m. ET.

Update at 8:15 a.m. ET. News Conference Delayed:

A news conference to be held by police and other officials in Moore is now expected to happen at 1 p.m. ET, CNN says, not 8 a.m. ET as earlier thought.

Update at 8:10 a.m. ET. "All I could see was destruction":

Associated Press photographer Sue Ogrocki saw the tornado warnings on television Monday and headed toward Moore. She writes that "by the time I got to Moore, all I could see was destruction."

Ogrocki was at one of Moore's elementary schools as rescuers brought children out alive. "I know students are among those who died in the tornado," she says, "but for a moment, there was hope in the devastation."

Update at 7:55 a.m. ET. About 100 Rescued From Rubble So Far.

Though the death toll is expected to rise, there is this good news: CNN says it's been told by authorities that about 100 people — so far — have been found alive and rescued from the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Update at 7:25 a.m. ET. "2-Mile Wide Lawnmower Blade":

Monday's tornado was like "a 2-mile wide lawnmower blade" that chewed up everything in its path as it went through Moore, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb (R) just told CNN.

Update at 7:20 a.m. ET. Listening For Voices:

From The Associated Press: "Rescuers walked through neighborhoods where Monday's powerful twister flattened home after home, to listen for any voices calling out from the rubble."

Update at 6:45 a.m. ET. News Conference Expected; Lightning And Rain In Area:

TV crews in Moore are packing up to head for shelter as rain resumes and lightning can be seen in the sky. Meanwhile, CNN says police officials expect to hold a news conference at 8 a.m. ET. (Note at 8:15 a.m. ET: The news conference is now set for 1 p.m. ET.)

Update at 6:35 a.m. ET. How To Help, Where To Go For Information:

The White House blog has a post that outlines "Resources and Information for Those Affected by Oklahoma Tornadoes."

Update at 6:30 a.m. ET. President Obama To Address Nation:

The president is expected to make a statement about the tragedy in Oklahoma at 10 a.m. ET.

Related posts:

-- Oklahoma Tornados: Finding Aid, Giving Aid.

-- VIDEO: A Time-Lapse Of The Tornado In Oklahoma.

-- Measuring The Power Of Deadly Tornadoes.

-- A Brief History Of Oklahoma Tornadoes.

-- Tweets Capture 'Shock And Awe' At Tornado's Deadly Power.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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