published Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Thunderstorms slow Oklahoma tornado cleanup

Monty Montgomery surveys the scene as he prepares to clean up a friend's tornado-ravaged home in Moore, Okla.
Monty Montgomery surveys the scene as he prepares to clean up a friend's tornado-ravaged home in Moore, Okla.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MOORE, Okla. — A band of thunderstorms battered the Oklahoma City area Thursday, slowing cleanup operations in the suburb where a tornado killed 24 people and destroyed thousands of homes this week.

The first of the funerals, for a 9-year-old girl killed at a Moore elementary school that took a direct hit in Monday’s storm, took place Thursday morning. A family photo showed the girl, Antonia Candelaria, beaming with a big smile and wearing a white sun hat.

Early estimates indicate the tornado caused more than $2 billion of damage in Moore. Whole subdivisions in the fast-growing community of 56,000 people were destroyed.

Antonia’s relatives and friends huddled under umbrellas in a downpour as they hurried into a chapel for her funeral. Mournful country music played in the chapel that was adorned with photos of the smiling girl.

Two elementary schools were hit — one was leveled — by Monday’s tornado. Antonia was one of seven children who perished at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, a one story building with barely a wall left standing. Altogether, 10 children were killed in the storm, including two infants.

The medical examiner reported that six of the children who died at Plaza Towers suffocated after being buried under a mass of bricks, steel and other materials as the building collapsed. A seventh child who died there, 8-year-old Kyle Davis, was killed instantly by an object — perhaps a large piece of stone or a beam — that fell on the back of his neck.

Thursday’s thunderstorms produced hail, heavy rain and high winds in the morning. A flash flood warning was also in effect. The National Weather Service said more severe storms were forecast for late afternoon and at night, and that more tornados were a possibility.

The weather was hampering cleanup and recovery efforts that had just begun to accelerate now that all of the missing have been accounted for. Residents were only formally allowed back into the damage zone on Wednesday afternoon, where they picked through enormous piles of debris.

Shayne Patteson was among them, moving around the ruins of his three-bedroom home. All that was left was the tiny area where his wife hunkered down under a mattress to protect their three children when a tornado packing winds of at least 200 mph slammed through his neighborhood.

Patteson vowed to rebuild, likely in the same place, but said next time he will have an underground storm shelter.

“That is the first thing that will be going into the design of the house, is the storm shelter and the garage,” he said as he looked around piles of bricks and plywood where their home once stood.

Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said Wednesday he would propose an ordinance in the next couple of days to require all new homes to have storm shelters.

The city already has some. After a massive tornado tore a near-identical path in 1999, city authorities provided incentives such as federal grant dollars to help residents cover the costs of safe rooms. This time, though, Lewis thinks it is necessary to compel people to include them in all new construction.

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