Oklahoma mourns, rebuilds amid storms
24 May 2013, 11:06
Oklahoma - Relief workers and clean-up crews defied
thunderstorms on Thursday while families and friends gathered for the funeral
of one of the Oklahoma tornado's youngest victims.
Heavy rain and lightning at dawn threatened to upset Moore's
long trail back to normality, with police at one point closing flash-flooded
streets in the residential city of 56 000 struggling to get back on its feet.
The tornado, one of the most powerful in recent years,
killed 24 people, injured 377, damaged or destroyed 1 200 homes and affected an
estimated 33 000 people in this Oklahoma City suburb, officials said in their
Initial damages have been estimated at around $2bn.
"My biggest concern is not necessarily for the
structure, but for people's contents," general contractor Lane Yeager,
scrambling to patch the roof of a stricken home, told AFP during a break in the
"They just survived the tornado. Now they're going to
have more problems (with rain damage). If we can get the lightning to let up
for a little while, we're going to try to cover that up so they don't have
"It's wet and it's cold," said Andy Loyd, helping
to repair his daughter's house.
"But it kind of helps us to find where the holes are in
the roof. It's going to get dry [later] and we'll get it secured and wait for
the insurance companies to come in - and then we'll rebuild."
Destruction and clean-up
By mid-afternoon, the skies had brightened, enabling utility
workers to resume fixing downed power lines.
Volunteers from the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army
and other charities fanned out with food, water and tools. Insurance claims
adjusters tallied up losses.
In an Oklahoma City funeral home, about 250 family and
friends together mourned the death of Antonia Candelaria, age nine, one of the
seven children killed when the roof collapsed at Plaza Towers Elementary
"We will miss our precious little 'Ladybug' every day,
but will rejoice for the day we will be reunited with her again someday,"
the girl's family wrote in an online obituary.
Pupils returned to Plaza Towers on what officially marked
the last day of school, to collect belongings and see their teachers one last
time before going on summer vacation.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Moore on Sunday
to comfort survivors and take stock of the destruction and clean-up. The
tight-knit community suffered a similarly powerful tornado in 1999 that killed
41 and another in 2003.
"We're not only at the stage of recovery and getting
our community back together. We're also at the stage of healing for our
citizens," said Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in announcing a public
memorial service for late Sunday.
The United States experiences three out of four tornadoes in
the world, but the one that hit Monday was unusually powerful when it touched
down with little advance notice, cutting 27km swath of destruction.
It followed roughly the same track as the 1999 twister, yet
very few homes in Oklahoma - and neither of the stricken schools - had
purpose-built storm shelters.
Vendors of such underground shelters for private residences
say demand has surged since the latest tornado, but Fallin was non-committal on
whether government should help fund such facilities.
"I think it's important for Oklahoma to talk about
that," she said.
Oklahoma state legislators - otherwise bitterly divided over
such issues as abortion - came together to draw $45m from the state's
"rainy day" emergency fund to help tornado victims.
On the Enhanced Fujita scale that gages a tornado's strength
based on the damage it causes, the twister was an EF-5, the highest possible
level, said Kelly Pirtle of the National Weather Service's Severe Storms