Skip to main content

One week later: The daunting recovery in Oklahoma

By Rene Marsh. Catherine E. Shoichet and Holly Yan, CNN
May 28, 2013 -- Updated 1032 GMT (1832 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A man finds $2,000 buried in the rubble of his destroyed home
  • A huge public memorial Sunday "was probably the start of healing for the community"
  • Moore's public schools suffered $45 million in damage
  • Obama visits disaster-stricken areas and calls for donations to the American Red Cross

Moore, Oklahoma (CNN) -- One week after a tornado devastated the lives and landscape of Moore, much of the city seems frozen in time. But despite the staggering wreckage that still litters the ground, the road to recovery is well under way.

Here's the latest on the Oklahoma tornado aftermath.

Oklahoma tornado: In context

In the rubble, a shocking find

Desperately digging through the rubble where his house once stood, Tom Bridges made a shocking find on Monday: $2,000 worth of crisp bills.

A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage. A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage.
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma Photos: Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma
Obama: Oklahomans inspire with courage
Principal: Teachers saved students
Loved ones remember tornado victims

He had kept the money in an envelope tucked away atop a window sill -- a place hidden from view and seemingly safe. But when last week's storm blasted his house to bits, the money went missing.

The 68-year-old man and a couple dozen volunteers spent Monday morning combing through rubble that was once his home, searching for the envelope.

At one point, they stood in a circle and prayed for the money to turn up. After hours of searching through wreckage 5 feet deep, it did.

"All of a sudden, I saw the window sill. ... I picked that up, and there it was," Bridges said shortly after the find, his voice cracking. "I just, I couldn't believe it. It was a miracle."

He said he hopes to use the money to buy a new pickup, since the storm totaled his vehicles.

"Right now, money is money. I got the clothes on my back and a new toothbrush I bought," he said. "It means a lot. It's just these little things like that really bring some joy in my heart, which I need."

Remembering those lost

Thousands of residents poured into First Baptist Church in Moore for a public memorial and prayer service Sunday night. Tissues in each of the pews greeted the mourners.

"It was pretty amazing celebrating all of the people that died and that lived," third-grader Ally Keepers told CNN affiliate KOCO.

Ally was inside Plaza Towers Elementary School with the tornado shredded the building and killed seven of her schoolmates.

"Some of my friends died, and I was so upset that Kyle Davis died," Ally said. "I was crying. I went to the cemetery and put some flowers out there for him."

Debby Goss of nearby Shawnee said the mass gathering was therapeutic.

"I think it was probably the start of healing for the community," she said.

"This was a good time for them to see each other in one place that wasn't a rescue center or a disaster area. ... There was a peaceful place for them to just sit and think about the other people that are here to support them and help."

Hear 911 tapes from Oklahoma
Frieda Stanley sits in what was once her living room. Her Oklahoma City neighborhood was hit by a deadly twister in May 1999 and again on Monday. Frieda Stanley sits in what was once her living room. Her Oklahoma City neighborhood was hit by a deadly twister in May 1999 and again on Monday.
Living in tornado alley
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Living in tornado alley Living in tornado alley
Heather Shannon helps a friend find family photos and other keepsakes at her home in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 22. People who lost their homes to the tornado on Monday continue to search through the rubble in hopes of finding some of their belongings. Heather Shannon helps a friend find family photos and other keepsakes at her home in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 22. People who lost their homes to the tornado on Monday continue to search through the rubble in hopes of finding some of their belongings.
Lost and found: Recovered from the wreckage
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
Photos: Recovered from the wreckage Photos: Recovered from the wreckage
OKC twisters: 15 years in 2 minutes

Obama tours devastated area

President Barack Obama saw the destruction up close Sunday and vowed to support residents long after the media leaves.

"As fellow Americans, we're going to be there as shelter from the storm for the people of Moore who have been impacted," Obama said.

He praised local officials, first responders and school principals for their efforts after the storm, which killed 24 people, injured more than 375 others and damaged or demolished 12,000 homes in the Oklahoma City area.

Speaking from the wreckage of Plaza Towers Elementary, Obama called on Americans to help with relief efforts.

"It's going to take a long time for this community to rebuild, so I want to urge every American to step up," he said, suggesting citizens donate to the American Red Cross website.

Governor: We need help now

Shortly before Obama's visit, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said her chief request for the federal government was help plowing through regulatory hurdles.

"Basically, what I need is the ability to get through red tape, the ability to get the FEMA funds in here quickly and to get the services that our citizens need to help them recover through this terrible disaster," Fallin said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Fallin, a Republican, said the initial reaction from the federal government in assisting her state was fast and effective.

"So far, we have had great response," she said, quickly adding that there was a long way to go before Moore returns to normal.

"This is a massive debris field," she said. "It's not just a couple blocks. It's miles."

Schools across town destroyed

Weekend graduation festivities in Moore were infused with reminders of the tragic tornado.

When Southmoore High's Alyson Costilla walked across the stage to get her diploma, about a dozen people in the crowd stood and held up pictures of her mother, who died in a 7-Eleven ravaged by the powerful winds.

The cost of rebuilding classrooms for Moore's students will be enormous.

The city's public schools suffered $45 million in damage, including the two elementary schools that were leveled. Overall, insurance claims related to last week's storm will probably top $2 billion, said Kelly Collins from the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

Strangers rush to help

The cleanup can be arduous, if not overwhelming.

Caleb Allison stared at the mass of debris that covered the yard where his home once stood.

"Who's going to come get it?" the high school Spanish teacher wondered last week.

But his mammoth problem was quickly solved Sunday with the help of students, parent-teacher association members and fellow teachers from his school and the elementary school where his wife teaches.

"We probably had 70 to 80 people in our front yard, and we cleaned it in a matter of 30 minutes," he said.

Morgan DeLong, one of the volunteers, said many whose homes survived the storm are eager to help.

"It's kind of our turn to return that blessing and help people out," she said. "It's amazing to just look out and see how our community's coming together."

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta; Rene Marsh reported from Moore. CNN's Marlena Baldacci, Jeff Kepnes, Dana Ford, George Howell and Nick Valencia also contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Oklahoma City Tornadoes
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1730 GMT (0130 HKT)
Max Broderick remembers exactly what he did a year ago Tuesday.
June 3, 2013 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
Heavy storms and tornadoes once again ripped through the Midwest. Already devastated areas of Oklahoma were hit again, and this time the damage spread to neighboring states. Here's how you can help.
May 30, 2013 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
Families share memories and snapshots of those we lost in the Oklahoma tornado devastation.
June 5, 2013 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
The Oklahoma medical examiner's office says 18 people in that state were killed in the storms. The office has released the names of 11.
June 4, 2013 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
They chased tornadoes not so much for the thrill, but in the hope that their research might help people avoid the fate to which they succumbed last week.
June 4, 2013 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A menacing tornado churned behind Mike Eilts as the storm chaser's truck sped away.
May 27, 2013 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Why do people in Tornado Alley keep rebuilding and staying in place after storms rip through? People from Moore share their reasons why.
May 27, 2013 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
See the best images from the deadly storm.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
It's one of the most familiar pieces of advice from authorities to people in the path of a tornado: Get into your basement.
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
On Sunday, a mystery photograph fluttered from the sky and landed near Leslie Hagelberg's mailbox in West Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The tornado spanned 1.3 miles -- the length of more than 22 football fields lined up end-to-end -- carved a 17-mile path of destruction.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Second-grade teacher Tammy Glasgow walks around what's left of Briarwood Elementary, struggling to pick out of its wreckage the things that once made a school.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
It was the end of the school day. The kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School were stuffing their backpacks, looking forward to going home, playing with friends, eating snacks.
April 27, 2014 -- Updated 1531 GMT (2331 HKT)
The "Tri-State Tornado" killed 695 people and injured 2,027, traveling more than 300 miles.
See the path of the tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma.
ADVERTISEMENT