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Oklahoma tornado: Mourning and rebuilding

May 24, 2013|By Devin Kelly and Matt Pearce
  • U.S. Air Force personnel help residents in Moore, Okla., sort through a tangle of debris after Monday's tornado.
U.S. Air Force personnel help residents in Moore, Okla., sort through a… (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)

MOORE, Okla. -- This tornado-stricken city continued to mourn its dead Friday as people sought to reestablish the lives disrupted by Monday’s tornado.

Residents returned to some of the damaged areas here and in Oklahoma City, hoping to see what was left of their homes. Streets were lined with moving trucks, vans and trailers.

On Kyle Drive in Oklahoma City, residents slowly picked through homes whose roofs had been sheared away and where vehicles were gone.

Gene Ellithorp, 58, of Chickasha loaded a few necessities from his daughter's home, which remained standing but roofless.

“She just moved in a month and a half ago,” Ellithorp said. Now he was helping her move out.

“I really don't know where to start,” he said. “The insurance guys say to list everything that's damaged.” He picked up what appeared to be a mud-spattered DVD player in her garage. “It'll take days and days. Better than having nothing, I guess.”

At a televised afternoon news conference, state Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak said there were 14,000 insurance claims pending, involving tornado damage to homes, vehicles and businesses.

“The question for me is how quickly are we going to get payments to Oklahomans,” he said. The commissioner also warned people about possible fraud during the cleanup and rebuilding phase.

Starting last weekend, tornadoes worked through the state, with the largest event the storm that cut through Moore on Monday. State officials have said that as many as 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm. The cost of rebuilding could exceed $2 billion.

Finding short-term housing is becoming a concern, but the prevailing attitude is things will work out.

All 136 rooms at Sooner Legends Inn & Suites in Norman are fully booked, front desk employee Lori Longman told the Los Angeles Times. The hotel is four miles south of where the tornado hit in Moore.

The hotel is housing tornado victims as well as Oklahoma Gas & Electric employees who will be working to restore power in affected areas. Sooner Legends is also catering meals for the OG&E employees, Longman said.

The disaster has had wide-ranging impact -- if you weren’t directly affected, you know someone who was, Longman said. She and her husband are housing three relatives from the Little Axe community whose homes were damaged in the tornado.

“We just say the same thing every time we have something happen -- Oklahomans pull together,” Longman said. “We do what we have to do.”

State officials have reported that 24 people were killed -- all in Moore. Ten of those were children, including two infants. Funerals began Thursday and are scheduled to continue through next week.

Services were held Friday for Kyle Davis, one of the seven children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School, destroyed by the tornado. “He had a vibrant personality and smile that would captivate everyone's attention. With an adventurous and competitive spirit, Kyle loved playing soccer, going to Monster Jam Truck events, riding four-wheelers with his family and friends, and playing with his sister and cousins," according to his obituary.

Funeral services were also to be held for Randy Dewayne Smith, 39. His obituary describes him as an electrician who “enjoyed playing video games and watching movies with his son Dylan, riding his motorcycle and spending time with his family.”

Officials have scheduled a memorial service for Sunday evening for all of the victims in the region.

President Obama, who has pledged the full support of the federal government in dealing with the disaster, is also scheduled to visit Sunday.

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Pearce reported from Oklahoma and Kelly from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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