The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 23, 2013

Thunderstorms slow Oklahoma tornado cleanup

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — 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, was scheduled for 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. Authorities estimated that as many as 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 33,000 people were affected — an especially traumatic toll for a city that had already suffered three other tornados since 1998.

Two elementary schools were hit — one was leveled — by Monday's tornado. Candelaria 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.

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