The tornado that struck an Oklahoma City suburb this week may have created $2 billion or more in damage as it tore through as many as 13,000 homes, multiple schools and a hospital, officials said Wednesday as they gave the first detailed account of the devastation.
At the same time, authorities released the identities of some of the 24 people, including 10 children, who perished. Though anguish over the deaths was palpable as residents began picking up their shattered neighborhoods, many remained stunned that the twister didn’t take a higher human toll during its 17 miles and 40 minutes on the ground.
The physical destruction was staggering.
“The tornado that we’re talking about is the 1 or 2 percent tornado,” Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood said of the twister, which measured a top-of-the-scale EF5 with winds of at least 200 mph. “This is the anomaly that flattens everything to the ground.”
As response teams transitioned into cleanup and recovery, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who sent police and fire crews from his city to assist the effort, said an early assessment estimated damage costs at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
The Oklahoma Insurance Department, meanwhile, said visual assessments of the extensive damage zone suggest the cost could be greater than the $2 billion from the 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., and killed nearly seven times as many people.
Though there was little more than 10 minutes’ warning that a tornado was on the ground Monday and headed for Moore, many in the area are accustomed to severe storms. The community of 56,000 people has been hit by four tornados since 1998, and residents already were on alert after weekend storms and days of warnings. Because the tornado hit in the afternoon, many others were away from the neighborhoods and out of harm’s way at work.
While estimating that between 12,000 and 13,000 homes were affected by Monday’s tornado, emergency officials said they were unable to estimate the number of people left homeless, in part because many had been taken in by relatives and only a couple dozen stayed overnight at Red Cross shelters.
President Barack Obama plans to view the destruction firsthand Sunday. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, meanwhile, visited Wednesday and again pledged the federal government’s ongoing support. She urged people to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to learn about aid for which they may qualify.
“We know that people are really hurting,” she said. “There’s a lot of recovery yet to do. ... We will be here to stay until this recovery is complete. You have our commitment on that.”