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Photos: The path of destruction from above

Updated 9:29 AM ET, Wed May 22, 2013
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An aerial view of the destruction caused by the massive tornado that struck areas south of Oklahoma City on Monday, May 20, shows the magnitude of damage left in its path. The storm's winds topped 200 mph as it carved a 17-mile path of destruction through Oklahoma City suburbs. On Tuesday, May 21, CNN sent photographer David McNeese to capture the story from above: David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
The storm, which touched down near Newcastle, Oklahoma, spanned 1.3 miles. Some areas along the path were completely flattened. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Officials from the National Weather Service gave the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20 a preliminary EF5 rating -- the highest score on the scale that measures tornado intensities. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
The tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburbs, hitting the town of Moore the hardest. It packed winds that topped 200 mph. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
A search-and-rescue effort to find survivors shifted Tuesday to one of recovery, officials said. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
The devastation in Moore was so complete that the mayor said city officials were racing to print new street signs to help guide rescuers and residents through a suddenly twisted and unfamiliar landscape. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
A group of homes was reduced to rubble. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Debris from homes and structures was strewn for miles around. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
In some areas, the homes of an entire street were destroyed. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Rescuers and first responders immediately began searching through the rubble of structures on May 20. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Large trees were uprooted and flattened. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Given its breadth and power, the tornado ranks among some of the strongest storms ever to strike the United States, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Homes in some areas were relatively undamaged while others very nearby were destroyed. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
Police, firefighters, volunteers and nearly 180 National Guard troops joined forces Tuesday in searching the rubble and securing areas hit by the storm. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
In 1999 and then again in 2003, Moore took direct hits from tornadoes that took eerily similar paths to 2013's twister. The 1999 storm packed the strongest wind speeds in history, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
A section of a bridge outside of Oklahoma City was blown off its foundation. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
The path of the tornado is clearly visible with dirt and debris painting a wide path across the Oklahoma landscape. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
The scene -- block after block of flattened homes and businesses, the gutted remains of a hospital and hits on two elementary schools -- left even seasoned veterans of Oklahoma's infamous tornadoes reeling. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN
View more galleries: Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area and The devastating Oklahoma tornado of 1999. David McNeese/Getty Images for CNN