Tornado victims try to pick up the pieces

Tornado victim opens trap door to basement.
Tornado victim opens trap door to basement.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Tornado survivors thanked God, sturdy closets and luck in explaining how they lived through the colossal twister that devastated an Oklahoma town and killed 24 people, an astonishingly low toll given the extent of destruction.

At least one family took refuge in a bathtub and some people shut themselves in underground shelters built into their houses on Monday when the powerful storm tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

While rescue workers and body-sniffing dogs sifted through the ruins on Wednesday, those who escaped told their stories of survival while trying to salvage what was left of their belongings.

“Yesterday I was numb. Today I cried a lot. Now I’m on the victory side of it,” said Beth Vrooman, who hid in a shelter in her garage in Moore during the storm.

The tornado’s winds exceeded 200 miles per hour, flattened entire blocks and demolished two schools and a hospital on its 17-mile (27-km), 50-minute rampage through central Oklahoma.

Of the 24 people killed, 10 were children, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. About 240 others were injured, emergency management officials said. The youngest victim was 4 months old, the oldest was 63.

All accounted for

Authorities had said six people were unaccounted for early yesterday, but later in the day said all the missing had been found. Five of the six were alive and the sixth was dead but had already been included in the tornado’s death toll of 24, Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings said.

The Oklahoma governor had said earlier in the day that the number of injured was more than 320, but emergency officials later said the total was unchanged at 237.

Listed as the highest category of storm – an EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale – the twister damaged or obliterated 12,000 to 13,000 homes and affected an estimated 33,000 people, said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

President Barack Obama was due to survey the damage on Sunday, a White House spokesman said.

The cleanup continued Wednesday with an eye toward the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. More than 500 people showed up to clear debris from the biggest cemetery in Moore so that Memorial Day services can be held there as usual, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said. (Reuters)

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