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State of emergency declared in 56 Oklahoma counties

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Hundreds of homes damaged in storms
  • NEW: State officials lower death toll from five to two
  • Storm destroyed more than 100 homes and 43 businesses
  • Truck stop east of Oklahoma City destroyed by direct hit from tornado
  • More than 65,000 homes, businesses without power throughout the state

(CNN) -- Oklahoma's governor Tuesday declared states of emergency in 56 counties following a string of deadly tornadoes and severe storms that swept through the area the day before.

Gov. Brad Henry took an aerial tour of one of the hardest hit areas Tuesday afternoon.

"I lost track of the number of damaged and destroyed homes that we saw," Henry said. "Literally hundreds and I think thousands of homes have received damage in these storms, and many, many of those homes have been destroyed."

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"Even though central Oklahoma was the hardest hit, this storm really was a statewide event, and there is damage and destruction throughout the state," he said.

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The governor said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured him "that FEMA would act very, very quickly on our request for a presidential disaster (declaration) and federal aid."

Meanwhile, a maze of downed power lines and wrecked homes in parts of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, hindered search-and-rescue efforts Tuesday as authorities worked to ensure no more victims of Monday's tornadoes lay in the rubble.

The state Department of Emergency Management lowered its death toll from five to two, saying that three children had been erroneously reported dead. The children are in critical condition, the state said. Their mother was one of the two dead.

More than 100 people were treated for various injuries, the state said.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said 80 homes and businesses in the city were destroyed by the storm, which he called "probably the most significant" to hit during his seven years in office.

The storm system that swept through the state on Monday spawned multiple tornadoes and dropped softball-sized hail. More bad weather was on the way Tuesday, and the National Weather Service warned Oklahomans to prepare for severe storms Tuesday afternoon and early evening.

Tornado watch in western Oklahoma

Officials said they planned to release more detailed damage estimates Tuesday and decide how to manage cleanup efforts in areas where tornadoes left behind snapped utility poles, downed trees and severely damaged homes.

In Norman, Oklahoma, south of Oklahoma City, mobile homes were blown to pieces in one neighborhood, where debris littered yards and streets alongside large trees ripped straight from the ground.

Watch iReport video of tornado in Norman, Oklahoma

Norman resident and CNN iReporter Erica Loftis said she spotted the funnel cloud from Interstate 40 while headed to her parents' home and could see it headed toward the home when she arrived. She and her parents took shelter in a small cement room with steel doors, where they could feel their ears popping and hear the storm ripping away parts of the house around them.

"You could feel the pressure - it was scary," Loftis said. Outside, the sound of "screeching metal" filled the air, she said.

Afterward, all the home's windows were broken, its chimney was blown into a neighbor's yard and the garage door was sucked in. In addition, a boat from a nearby marine store ended up in one of their trees, she said.

And a truck stop east of Oklahoma City was demolished, taking a direct hit from one of the tornadoes, according to a spokeswoman for Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores. But motorists who pulled off the interstate to take cover were ushered into the truck stop's large coolers and restrooms before the tornado tore the roof off the building, blew out car windows and overturned tractor-trailers, spokeswoman Christina Dukeman said.

Love's employee Charlescie Greenway said she and two other women made it to one cooler before the twister hit.

"The three of us were kind of trapped in there, holding the door shut, praying to God that we don't die and that everybody else was safe," Greenway told CNN affiliate KWTV, adding, "it was really scary -- the wind was like trying to pull the door off the latch."

Cornett said quick thinking by the truck stop's employees saved people inside.

"They were all huddled into a cooler and all walked out alive," he said.

More than 65,000 homes and businesses were without power throughout the state, emergency management officials said. Nearly 15,000 homes were without power in Norman alone, according to Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

The Lake Draper Water Treatment Plant, which provides about half of Oklahoma City's water, was also without power, City Manager Jim Couch said. Because of the outage, city officials placed a ban on outside watering for 48 hours, he said.

"It's unknown when that power will be restored," he said. "Major transmission lines in the area have been damaged."

State emergency officials said more than 100 homes were destroyed and another 70 sustained major damage. Additionally, 43 businesses were destroyed.

CNN's Tyson Wheatley contributed to this report.