MOORE, Okla. — Two days after a huge tornado barreled through this working-class town, authorities reopened the worst-hit neighborhoods for the first time Wednesday, giving residents a few hours to search for wedding rings, retrieve abandoned pets and pry apart a briar patch of rubble to see what had survived, and what had not.
At 3 p.m. the police and military members who had been barricading the streets stepped aside to allow scores of people back into their wrecked neighborhoods. Some went in on foot, pulling their children in red wagons. Some drove pickups loaded with equipment. People carried tarps and tubs, crowbars and chain saws and anything else that could help them sift through the heaps of what had once been their houses.
Most had been home during the twister or its immediate aftermath, and knew what to expect. Others had been on vacation or out of town when the tornado struck Monday afternoon, and had been allowed back for only enough time to grab a bottle of pills or snap a cellphone photo.
On Wednesday, they got the full picture. Brick walls lay in heaps. A sports car rested belly-up in someone's living room. Beds and couches lay shredded like wisps of cotton. Some homes seemed to have been wiped clean off their foundations. Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven students died, looked as if it had been hit by a bomb.
"All you can say is it's a complete disaster," said Doug Stills, 73, a longtime Moore resident whose son's home was flattened.
With search efforts winding down and officials saying that they did not expect to find any more bodies in the rubble, Wednesday's homecoming marked a first step in the long and expensive process of rebuilding Moore after yet another deadly tornado. Officials said the storm had caused as much as $2 billion in damage, pummeling 12,000 homes and affecting 33,000 people.
"People are really hurting," Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, said at a news conference here with local officials. "There's a lot of recovery to do." President Barack Obama plans to tour the damaged areas Sunday.
Amid the cleanup, families across the area were planning funerals and grieving for the 24 people killed in the storm.
On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office identified the victims and said that 10 of them were children, one more than had been previously reported. The cause of death in almost every case was either blunt force trauma or asphyxia.
To residents, the number of children on the list was heartbreaking. There was Christopher Legg, 9, who loved football so much that he played on two teams — the Rough Riders and the Red Eagles. He had suffered from melanoma and Osgood-Schlatter disease, which caused a painful limp. But his family said Christopher, a third-grader, faced the diseases with strength and optimism.
"He was a very outgoing kid, always willing to help out," Brian Trumbly, a cousin, said in an interview. "He loved his parents very much."
The family's home was also destroyed in the storm.
Christopher was one of the seven children killed inside Plaza Towers Elementary. There was also Janae Hornsby, 9, who was described by her family's pastor as a "beautiful little girl" who made people feel happy just to know her. There was 9-year-old Emily Conatzer, whose mother, Kristi, posted a Facebook message saying she had hoped she would wake up Wednesday to see Emily jumping around and giggling. And there was Kyle Davis, 8, who played soccer and went to monster-truck shows.
On Wednesday afternoon, Athena Delgado paused as she walked past the crumbled school. Her son Xavier had been trapped inside Monday, and six of his classmates had died. Xavier, his hands sheathed in floppy gloves to dig through the rubble of his family's home, ran down the street, laughing. He paused for a moment to look at the school.
"He says he's fine," Delgado said, looking at her son, "but it'll hit him."