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Military joins search for Oklahoma tornado victims

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
updated 3:25 PM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
A member of the Oklahoma National Guard uses night vision goggles to help in the search for survivors in Moore, Oklahoma.
A member of the Oklahoma National Guard uses night vision goggles to help in the search for survivors in Moore, Oklahoma.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • National Guard troops use thermal imaging to search for survivors in rubble
  • Air Force firefighting crews among first responders in Oklahoma
  • U.S. Army base to be staging area for federal emergency response
  • No active duty Army forces deployed yet for tornado

(CNN) -- Military forces used thermal imaging technology and other specialized equipment to help search for victims buried in rubble from Monday's devastating tornado outside Oklahoma City.

The government's disaster response was led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with the military acting in a support role.

President Barack Obama has pledged a range of federal resources if requested in response to the massive twister that tore a 17-mile path of destruction through central Oklahoma.

At least 24 people were killed and more than 230 others hurt, authorities said.

So far Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has activated 241 Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard troops.

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"When you actually get out here and see the devastation, all the people that are affected by it, it really hits hard," said Spc. Josh Gragert of the Oklahoma National Guard. "I've got a friend I work with that his house was leveled."

Additionally, active duty firefighting crews from Tinker Air Force base near the hardest hit area in Moore responded.

Rescuers pored over collapsed buildings and homes and other devastation searching for survivors.

Many of the Oklahoma guardsmen have night vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment and used the technology overnight.

"We can get in with the thermal imagers and night vision and see in the dark and hopefully help find survivors," said 2nd Lt. Gabriel Bird of the Oklahoma Air National Guard.

At least 100 people have been pulled alive from tornado wreckage.

The U.S. Army base at Ft. Sill in Lawton, about 125 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and home of the Army's artillery training school, will be used to stage equipment and supplies for FEMA. No active duty troops from that facility had been deployed yet for tornado relief, Ft. Sill's public affairs office said.

It is unlikely at this point that the region will see a large-scale military presence in the area similar to what was seen after Hurricane Katrina.

Neither Tinker AFB nor Ft. Sill suffered any major damage.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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