The Norman Transcript

May 23, 2013

More shelters in forecast

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — Ten children are dead, and Mayor Glenn Lewis wants tornado shelters included in all new homes built in Moore. A proposed municipal ordinance would require a shelter either inside or outside.

“We haven’t talked about this,” Lewis said “We don’t want it to be so expensive that our homes aren’t affordable.”

Lewis said he believes most people will rebuild with a storm shelter. New schools have been built with safe rooms, he said. Moore’s Kelly Elementary was one of the first in the nation to have a safe room.

“When you walk in there, it’s one of the hallways,” Lewis said.

Monday’s tornado, which killed two dozen people, affected 33,000 others and about 12,600 homes. It caused between $1.5 and $2 billion in damages in Moore and south Oklahoma City, according to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

“We built six new schools in Oklahoma City, and they all have safe rooms,” Cornett said.

Pres. Obama is expected to tour the tornado ravaged community Sunday. Wednesday, his Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, visited Moore with FEMA Director Rich Serino and several state and local officials.

Amy Elliott, public information officer for the state Medical Examiner said 23 of the 24 victims have been identified, and families may claim the bodies.

“The examinations have been completed, and they are ready to be released,” Elliott said. She asked for family members to call 405-239-7141 to claim their loved ones.

Elliott said five of the school children died in the Plaza Towers Elementary School of mechanical asphyxia.

That means they likely were trapped under the heavy weight of rubble that did not allow them to breathe.

“There’s no case of death by drowning,” Elliott said, referring to early reports about the school.

Six adults are still presumed missing but may have just walked off, officials said. They are asking residents in the impacted areas to make contact with loved ones.

The federal presence in Moore has increased since teams from FEMA, ATF and FBI began arriving on Tuesday.

The National Guard and U.S. military personnel from nearby Tinker Air Force Base have been involved since the beginning, assisting crews from state, county and municipal agencies.

Rep. Tom Cole promised recovery support from Washington is bipartisan.

Cole, R-Moore, flew in on Tuesday and found his home is intact. Power and water were off, but have since been restored.

“This is my home and has been for 53 years, so what happens here is extraordinarily important to me,” Cole said.

The Congressman worked his way through college as a groundskeeper at the schools, including Plaza Towers Elementary, he said, but the school is no longer recognizable.

“I had no idea it was a school just looking at the structure, the wreckage was so totally complete,” Cole said.

Officials ask people to avoid the affected area to reduce traffic congestion.

“This is still a very active recovery site,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.

People who want to help can donate to the American Red Cross or to Oklahoma Strong, the relief effort run through United Way.

“I think a big need now is debris removal, and we will be working with Oklahoma on expedited debris removal and then we will be working with individual homeowners so we can get that debris out of there,” Napolitano said. “I’m pleased to hear the charity you’re forming is called Oklahoma Strong.”

Naplitano said Oklahoma’s recovery efforts are impressive and a model for others.

“I’m no stranger to disaster, but this is a rough one,” said Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. “We’re on the ground. We’re providing food, shelter and comfort.”

Joy Hampton