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Chaos after tornado led to double reporting in death toll

May 21, 2013|By Rick Rojas

After night fell in Oklahoma, amid the chaos in the hours after a devastating tornado left a 20-mile path of destruction, the death toll stood at 51, and officials believed it would only increase.

But by Tuesday morning officials and locals found something of a "silver lining," as one state medical examiner's office official put it. The death toll had dropped to 24, although it is still expected to rise as rescuers continue to search through debris.

"Fewer losses is better, of course," Amy Elliott of the state medical examiner's office told the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOS: Powerful tornado slams Oklahoma

Elliott said that the revision came after the medical examiner's office found a "difference in the calls that had been reported to us and the decedents we actually received." In the disorder in wake of such a disaster, some of those killed were double reported.

Elliott noted that her office has experience working major disasters in the Oklahoma City area, such as the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building downtown in which more than 160 people were killed and the devastating May 3, 1999, tornado, a point of reference for many Oklahomans in describing this storm's destruction.

"We just have an amazing team that's very organized and pulls it together," she said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a Tuesday news conference that the death count remained unclear, and the current tally had to be based on how many bodies had been taken to the medical examiner's office.

"We don’t have any firm numbers," Fallin said, adding, "We hope to have better numbers on that."

Officials said in the news conference that 20 of those killed were from Moore, Okla., which was among the hardest-hit areas, and four were from Oklahoma City.

As for the earlier death toll, Fallin said that she'd heard of bodies being taken directly to funeral homes instead of to the medical examiner. Elliott, in an earlier news conference Tuesday, said downed communication lines and problems sharing information with officers exacerbated the problem.

"It was a very eventful night," Elliott said in the news conference. "I truly expect that they'll find more today."

ALSO:

Oklahoma rescuers face grim day of rising toll after tornado

Storms expected in Oklahoma tornado zone as rescue work continues

'The dog! The dog!' Camera crew spots tornado survivor's missing dog

rick.rojas@latimes.com

Twitter: @rar

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