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Tornado-Battered Moore Comes to Grips With Aftermath, Says First of 24 Farewells

May 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of 9-year-old Antonia Candelaria, the first victim of the massive tornado in Moore, Okla., to be laid to rest. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how the enormity of the loss makes daily life a continual struggle.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to Oklahoma now.

The people of Moore began saying farewell today to the victims of Monday’s tornado disaster. At the same time, cleanup crews dodged more bad weather.

Hari is back with our report on day three since the twister hit.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hundreds of people turned out for the first of 24 funerals, this one for nine-year-old Antonia Candelaria. She was one of seven children killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Six of those children suffocated after being buried under bricks and steel. Another was hit and killed by a heavy stone or beam.

Today, on what would have been the last day of school, students gathered at Moore High School hoping to find a sense of closure.

ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT BRAD FERNBERG, Moore Public Schools: We think it’s important for the kids to be able to see their classmates, to see who’s doing all right, to be able to talk to their friends again and be with their teachers. It was quite an experience on Monday afternoon, and once the tornado was over, students went home. So this is the first they have had an opportunity to come back to the school.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thousands of others are also trying to come to grips with the aftermath of a tornado that topped the scale, as an F-5, and damaged or destroyed up to 13,000 homes.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says the enormity of the loss has turned day-to-day life into a struggle.

GOV. MARY FALLIN, R-Okla.: I have had people come up and say, I have lost my purse, I have lost my billfold, I don’t have identification. We have been working with our Health Department for those that have lost their birth certificates, those that need death certificates. There are many different issues facing people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the hardest-hit areas is the district of state Representative Mark McBride; 80 percent of his constituents were in the path of the tornado, as he heard Wednesday.

STATE REP. MARK MCBRIDE, R-Okla.: Hey man, you live here?

MAN: No. A guy I worked with did.


MAN: Yes. His girlfriend rode it out in there.

MARK MCBRIDE: Rode it out in that?

MAN: Yes, she crawled out where that guy’s carrying that coat?


MAN: She crawled out of there.


MAN: Really.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Plaza Towers school is also in McBride’s district. On Monday, he helped dig through the wreckage in search of children.

MARK MCBRIDE: We got in here as quick as we could, and when we were in here, the firefighters, everybody had jackhammers going and cutting torches and loaders and trying to just take bits and pieces away at a time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Danny Silva’s little girl attends second grade at Plaza Towers. He got her out of school before the storm hit and into a neighbor’s shelter.

DANNY SILVA, Tornado Survivor: I said, let’s go. Let’s go. And we are just pushing. And I was like pushing. Let’s go, go, go.

There was nine kids in there and five adults. And within — we had a problem — excuse me — we a problem moving the — shutting the hatch.

And once we closed it and locked it up, it took about 30 seconds and then it was like the space shuttle was above us.

HARI SREENIVASAN: They all survived, but Silva said he knew all seven of the children who died at the school.

DANNY SILVA: It’s heartbreaking. And then I saw the names today. It’s horrible, because I know those kids, and one of them is my daughter’s best friend. And just — it’s horrible.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Neither Silva nor state Rep. McBride believe a storm shelter at the school would have made a difference.

DANNY SILVA: I don’t think anybody could prevent this. I really don’t, unless you put the school underground. There’s really nothing. They did everything they could.

MARK MCBRIDE: Well, you know there is nothing you can do about an F-5 tornado. I mean, it is one — it’s the big daddy. I mean, it came in here. I don’t know if a storm shelter or anything would have stopped it. I mean, it was coming through and tearing anything in its path, not a normal F-2, 3, something like we normally get.

It was — I mean, you can just look around and see it wiped everything off the foundation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Despite the destruction, Susan Pierce, the local superintendent of schools, promised today that the system will work all summer to be ready for the new school year.

SUPERINTENDENT SUSAN PIERCE, Moore Public Schools: We will rebuild and we will reopen. And we will have school in August. We will do whatever it takes to take care of our students, their families and our school staff.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For now, cleanup crews are still coping with bad weather, a new band of thunderstorms that dropped more rain today, renewing fears of another twister.

But, despite the weather, Gov. Fallin says workers are attacking the mountains of debris that extend as far as the eye can see.

MARY FALLIN: Our main task now is to work on recovery for the various communities, the debris removal itself, to get the utilities back up and operational streets opened, businesses opened, to help the families certainly get into their communities to be able to retrieve their personal items and goods.

We have professional debris removal crews that are stationed. And there are also a lot of volunteer organizations that have come forward saying, what can we do to help?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hundreds of volunteers have already cleaned the cemetery in Moore for Memorial Day. The weekend will also bring more funerals for the tornado’s victims, President Obama’s visit on Sunday, and a community prayer service on Sunday night.

JEFFREY BROWN: And there’s much more online, where one of our reporters on the ground has written of her experience and posted photos she shot of the destruction.