The cleanup of Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City that bore the brunt of the tornado’s deadly force, began in earnest Wednesday, and among the first tasks for the survivors will be to bury the dead.
The town’s 55,000 residents are still digesting grievous details of damage and loss from the twister that cut a swath 17 miles long and 1.3 miles wide Monday afternoon. The Oklahoma City medical examiner’s office said that all 24 of the known dead have been identified. Ten are children, including two infants, 4 months and 7 months old, who both died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
The White House announced that President Obama would visit the area Sunday to survey the damage, thank the first responders and offer condolences to families of the dead.
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.
“We’re going to be looking for something that doesn’t look like a body,” said Steve Dolezal, part of the search-and-rescue team from Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., before the 80 members of the team fanned out across a muddy, snake-infested field behind a church. “Hair mashed up. Clothing. That stuff. Take your time and verify what you see.”
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.”