The bodies of the majority of Monday's tornado victims have been released to their families, officials said. Twenty-four men, women and children were killed in the storm.
Communication problems following the EF5 twister that ripped through Newcastle, south Oklahoma City and Moore were to blame for the incorrect death toll released by the state medical examiner's office after the disaster. Initial reports put the number dead at 51.
“We were notified by law enforcement and the funeral homes ... that there was a count of 51 coming to our office,” spokeswoman Amy Elliott said.
Officials used Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulance radios to communicate after the tornado hit, Elliott said.
“The cellphone towers were down in Moore. We were doing communication via radio. The EMSA ambulances have radios in them. They were kind enough to let people use them.”
Elliott said there is “no indication whatsoever” that people are buried in rubble or storm shelters.
The state medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City has space for 45 bodies and is typically at full capacity. The bodies were moved to FEMA coolers to accommodate the tornado victims.
“The coolers now are no longer needed,” she said. “We're back to a normal operating basis.”
Workers placed camouflage materials on top of transport vehicles to shield bodies from media as the victims were brought into the facility.
Members of the staff — including Dr. Eric Pfeifer, chief medical examiner and morgue supervisor — went for three days without sleep to perform autopsies and return remains to victims' families, she said.
Some staff members showed up just to do what they could to support co-workers who were working late.
Members of the community volunteered to help, too.
“I'm from Oklahoma and all Oklahomans stick together,” said Krystal Martin, an Oklahoma City resident who stopped by about 8:30 p.m. Monday.
“I wanted to be here to help with whatever the people are doing. If there's anything I can do, I have two hands and the will to work.”