Victims of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado died mainly from blunt-force trauma and asphyxiation as the storm cut a 17-mile swath through the city, the state medical examiner said.
The mile-wide May 20 tornado took the lives of at least 24 people, including 10 children. The youngest was 4-month-old Case Futrell and the oldest a 65-year-old man whom the office didn’t identify. Meanwhile, municipal workers in orange vests cleaned up streets strewn with debris after the twister damaged or destroyed at least 1,300 homes. All missing people were accounted for, Governor Governor Mary Fallin’s office said.
“It’s going to be a very long recovery process,” Fallin said at a news briefing today in Moore. “There are many, many needs.”
President Barack Obama will visit Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb of 55,000, on May 26 to view damage and meet survivors of the storm, which topped the National Weather Service scale for tornado strength. The twister destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School and a hospital, and injured 353 as winds exceeding 200 miles (322 kilometers) per hour ripped off roofs and twisted sheet metal around splintered trees and utility poles.
Two of the victims were infants, 15 were female and nine male, Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer at the state medical examiner’s office, said in an e-mail. All but one had been identified and their bodies were ready to be returned to their families, she said. Some shared the same last name.
Officials don’t know the whereabouts of six adults and whether they left the area without making contact or are buried in rubble, said Albert Ashwood, the state’s top emergency manager.
Residents could return to what was left of their homes in neighborhoods blocked by police today from 3 p.m. local time until dark, said Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management gave a preliminary figure of 2,800 damaged or destroyed homes based on a flyover of the disaster area yesterday, said Matt Skinner, a spokesman. The Federal Emergency Management Agency pegged the number at 1,316 homes and 47 nonresidential structures in a briefing today.
The storm may have caused as much as $2 billion in damages and affected 30,000 people, said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
The cleanup phase began as rescuers wound down the search for survivors and victims. The sun was out today as hundreds of volunteers arrived on foot and by bus at a 20-acre municipal cemetery, some with tools in hand, to clear shredded vegetation and fragments of houses.
A couple of miles away, about 20 dump trucks lined up on an Interstate 35 service road near Moore’s hardest-hit area, as crews worked nearby.
Obama’s declaration of a major disaster makes government funding available to people in five counties. About a thousand have applied, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said today on MSNBC.
“At some point the cameras will leave,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who arrived in Moore today, said at the briefing. “We will be here to stay until this recovery is complete. You have our commitment on that.”
The tornado was an EF5, the most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita scale, according to the National Weather Service in Norman. The storm was 1.3 miles across at its widest.
The twister hit two days before the second anniversary of the deadliest single U.S. tornado in almost 60 years, which slammed into Joplin, Missouri, about 225 miles northeast of Moore. That storm killed 161 people and caused more than $2 billion in damage.
In May 1999, 40 people died and 675 were injured in Oklahoma after dozens of tornadoes swept through the Great Plains, including Moore.
Oklahoma City has been struck by tornadoes more times than any other place in the U.S., according to government data. The May 20 storm came the day after two people were killed and 39 injured in separate storms in the state. At least 30 tornadoes were reported on May 19 from Illinois to Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, residents mourned those who didn’t survive, and communities mobilized to help one another. Donations began pouring in, including a $1 million gift to the American Red Cross from Kevin Durant of the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder. The team also donated the same amount to relief efforts.
Churches, shelters and neighbors helped house the newly homeless. In addition to food, shelter and mental-health care, the Red Cross will supply people with items such as tarps, pails, mops and gloves to sift through their belongings, said Gail McGovern, the group’s chief executive officer.
“I’m no stranger to disaster, but this a rough one,” McGovern said.