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Wed May 22, 2013

Identities Of 24 Victims In Okla. Tornado Emerge

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 4:40 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Moore, Okla., today, details about some of the people killed in the massive tornado began to emerge. Ten of them are children. They include a 4-month-old girl whose mother also died, an infant and her 4-year-old sister, and seven third-graders who were trapped in the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

As the community prepares to bury its dead, already authorities are grappling with questions of how to keep residents safe, especially children. NPR's Kirk Siegler has this story from Moore.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Toward the end of a cul-de-sac where home after home is leveled, Bennie Banning(ph) is standing in her driveway with a box of photos and some insurance papers she found in the rubble of her home and smashed-up car, behind her.

BENNIE BANNING: Well, I did find some pictures. These are from my girls growing up, some old pictures 'cause my daughters are 27 and 30 now. And trying to find something from my mom and dad 'cause my mom and dad both passed away. So I'm trying to find pictures of them.

SIEGLER: Banning has insurance and will soon start filing the claim so she can try to rebuild here. She's going to look into having a safe room or a shelter included. But for now, she says she's just glad her entire family is safe; especially her granddaughter, who rode out the tornado in the nearby Plaza Towers Elementary School where several young children died.

BANNING: Her teacher said that she laid on her and her son in the bathroom, one of the bathrooms. And the kids were both covered in mud, but neither one of them had a scratch on them. They were saved.

SIEGLER: There are many questions why there weren't tornado shelters in that school and for that matter, many of the homes and buildings in this community, where tornados are a way of life. Local officials say they're now mulling an ordinance that would require all new homes built in Moore to include tornado shelters.

But in an afternoon news conference, Oklahoma's state emergency manager, Albert Ashwood, said all of the tornado-proofing in the world probably wouldn't have saved the kids, and other victims, due to the power of the tornado, now confirmed to have been the highest on the scale, with winds of more than 200 miles an hour.

ALBERT ASHWOOD: This is the anomaly that flattens everything to the ground. So it's a bit remiss to say that tornado precautions were not taken, or facilities were not strong enough. Can they always be stronger? Absolutely. But I think everything was done that could be done, at the time.

SIEGLER: At that same news conference, authorities for the first time gave a clearer picture of the extent of the damages here - thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, and at least 33,000 people affected by the storm. And soon, the funerals will begin. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

MAYOR MICK CORNETT: This is going to be a tough weekend for us as we bury those children who died in the elementary school, and the rest of our citizens who fought from the storm and just couldn't evade the terror.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBRIS-REMOVAL NOISES)

SIEGLER: Now, two days after the storm, Moore is in full-on cleanup mode. Priority is to get the piles of debris and rubble moved out of the neighborhoods, shopping malls and streets, so homeowners can get back in and start filing insurance claims.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We need a wa - can you guys toss a water over to these guys?

SIEGLER: That debris removal is going on in earnest at this home owned by a local real estate agent. A dozen of his co-workers have banded together to sift through the piles of rubble that was his home and his belongings. It takes three of them to lift up what's left of a heavy refrigerator, and drag it toward the street.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, watch out...

(SOUNDBITE OF THUD)

This afternoon, everyone who was evacuated is being allowed back into their properties for the first time since Monday, but some had clearly ducked around security checkpoints. Community leaders were also making plans to make sure a local high school graduation went on as planned this weekend, a small sign that some parts of Moore may soon be starting to move on.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Moore, Okla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.