Moore, Okla. begins cleaning up after tornado that killed 7 elementary school students

In Moore, Okla., residents, officials and volunteer workers come to grips with the aftermath of the EF-5 level tornado that levelled hundreds of homes in the town. (A.J. Chavar/The Washington Post)

Three days after a tornado destroyed a large swath of Moore, Okla, crews have almost completed their search for victims. Fair weather is allowing residents to begin cleaning up the wreckage, Carol Morello and Melissa Bell report:

The search for more victims is nearing an end. Search-and-rescue units from Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas have canvassed affected neighborhoods, and on Wednesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency teams combed through open fields and cluttered streams and under ragged trees with twisted aluminum siding hanging like moss from their branches. . .

Many residents took advantage of sunny skies to wash away clumps of insulation that looked like mud sticking to their rooftops, doors and walls. Tiny specks of insulation drifted in the air, causing children to cough. Others returned to leveled neighborhoods, scavenging what few personal possessions they could find. At a few homes that lost roofs and windows but are still partially standing, brand-new American flags have been raised. The sound of bulldozers filled the air.

The experience is so wrenching, many do not know if they will ever return.

“It’s too early to make a decision, but my first inclination is no,” said Theresa Modena, 60, standing in a shredded garage holding the dented and dirty yellow 1970 Mustang her husband spent years restoring. “We lived here for 35 years. My children were raised here. I don’t think I have the heart and stamina to go through cleaning this up, then dive into rebuilding.” (Read the complete article here.)

The state medical examiner has identified the 24 people killed in the tornado. A list of names is available here.

Seven of those were students were killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which, like many schools in the area, lacked a “safe room” to provide shelter from tornadoes. The Associated Press reports that such rooms are simply been too expensive for most school districts:

Oklahoma, which has averaged more than 50 tornadoes per year since record-keeping began in 1950, is in the heart of tornado alley. State officials asserted Wednesday that they had done more than their counterparts in any other state to encourage construction of community safe rooms and home storm shelters.

More than 100 Oklahoma schools have already received federal grant money for safe rooms, said the head of the state’s emergency management agency.

Yet most schools still lack them. The reason: the cost, which can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million, depending on the size of the room. For some cash-strapped districts, that could equal the annual salary of nearly an entire school’s teaching staff. (Continue reading here.)

The issue of federal funding to help communities deal with disasters presents a conundrum for conservative lawmakers in Washington, David Fahrentold and Paul Kane write:

Oklahoma has one of the most conservative congressional delegations of any state: seven Republican men, including fierce advocates for cutting federal spending.

Five of those seven voted no in January on a bill to provide $50 billion in disaster funding for states hit by Hurricane Sandy.

On Tuesday, the disaster was Oklahoma’s instead, a deadly tornado that swept through the town of Moore on Monday afternoon. So those representing Oklahoma all faced the same question: Would they support an influx of new funding — if necessary — for disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma? (Continue reading here.)

A spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he would only support giving additional money to Moore if the funds were balanced by reductions in other parts of the federal budget.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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