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Oklahoman Modified: May 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm •  Published: May 22, 2013

MOORE — An eerie silence settled over the destruction in Moore on Tuesday as National Guard troops and law enforcement officers blocked people from entering the tornado debris zone so search teams could do their jobs.

Meanwhile, in south Oklahoma City, police began letting residents return to their homes so they could see what is left.

Tales of terror and heroism continued to emerge Tuesday.

Amber Harris, 31, said she rushed to Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School just minutes before the tornado struck, gathered up 10 children and took them to a storm shelter.

“I told the kids before we got out that we're a strong family and if we lose our home, we're going to make it,” Harris said, adding that five of the children were her own, three were her foster children and two were children of her best friend.

Harris said her home was badly damaged.

“Right now, I'm devastated. It's just so much to take in — trying to be strong for my family,” she said. “Our kids will be pretty hurt by the time they realize what's going on. We have to deal with it one day at a time.”

Second-grade teacher Annette Brown was with schoolchildren in the rest room and hallways of Briarwood Elementary School for about 20 minutes Monday before the ceiling collapsed, pinning them to the ground.

Metal beams and cinder blocks crushed her. She held the hand of her son — a student at the school — the whole time, despite losing feeling in her arms. She said her thoughts were on the children and keeping them calm.

“I thought we were going to die,” Brown said.

She said the children were “surprisingly calm.” First responders pulled them from the rubble.

“I'm just thankful that we made it,” she said. “We had guardian angels for sure. There's no way we could've made it without guardian angels.”

The state medical examiner's office Tuesday morning reported a reduced death toll of 24 from Monday's tornado, noting confusion during the early aftermath of the disaster.

Spokeswoman Amy Elliott said 51 deaths were reported at one point Monday.

The 24 deceased victims were taken to the medical examiner's Oklahoma City office, and most have been identified, she said.

Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulances took numerous victims to hospitals Monday, spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said.

“They took them to the hospital and then came back to pick up some more,” O'Leary said. “It took many hours. Some of our paramedics walked to get closer. It was an amazing effort from a lot of people.”

Sadly, some children in Moore who could not be saved were brought to paramedics, she said.

O'Leary said 48 ambulances were used during the rescue efforts.

OU Medical Center and Children's Hospital are reporting 85 patients admitted; 50 of them are children. Their conditions range from minor injuries to critical.

At the three metro St. Anthony hospitals, 32 patients were treated and released and three patients were transferred to OU Medical Center and Children's Hospital.

Integris Health Southwest Medical Center reported treating 90 patients and admitting 20. Ten of the victims were in critical condition and 10 were listed as serious. Five children were treated and released.

A 65-year-old man died Tuesday when he was running to a shelter and hit his head, said Brooke Cayot, Integris Health spokeswoman.

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