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Thunderstorms slow Oklahoma tornado cleanup

MOORE, Okla. — A band of thunderstorms battered the Oklahoma City area Thursday, slowing cleanup operations in the suburb where a tornado killed 24 people and destroyed thousands of homes this week.

The first of the funerals, for a 9-year-old girl killed at a Moore elementary school that took a direct hit in Monday's storm, took place Thursday morning. A family photo showed Antonia Candelaria beaming with a big smile and wearing a white sun hat.

Early estimates indicate the tornado caused more than $2 billion of damage in Moore. Entire subdivisions in the fast-growing community of 56,000 people were destroyed. Authorities estimate about 1,200 homes were damaged or destroyed and 33,000 people were affected, an especially traumatic toll for a city that had already suffered three other tornados since 1998.

Antonia's relatives and friends huddled under umbrellas in a downpour as they hurried into a chapel for her funeral. Mournful country music played inside.

Two elementary schools were hit — one was leveled — by Monday's tornado. Antonia was one of seven children who perished at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, a one-story building with barely a wall left standing. Altogether, 10 children were killed in the storm, including two infants.

Thursday's thunderstorms produced hail, heavy rain and high winds in the morning. A flash flood warning was also in effect. The National Weather Service said more severe storms were forecast into the night, and more tornados were possible.

The weather was hampering cleanup and recovery efforts that had just begun to accelerate now that all of the missing have been accounted for. Residents were formally allowed back into the damage zone Wednesday afternoon, and they picked through enormous piles of debris.

Shayne Patteson was among them, moving around the ruins of his three-bedroom home. All that was left was the tiny area where his wife hunkered down under a mattress to protect their three children when a tornado packing winds of at least 200 mph slammed through the neighborhood.

Patteson vowed to rebuild, but said next time he will have an underground storm shelter.

Steve Gerberth takes a phone call from the second story of his destroyed home on Thursday in Moore, Okla., after Monday’s tornado that killed 24 and destroyed countless homes.

Getty Images

Steve Gerberth takes a phone call from the second story of his destroyed home on Thursday in Moore, Okla., after Monday’s tornado that killed 24 and destroyed countless homes.

Thunderstorms slow Oklahoma tornado cleanup 05/23/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:02pm]
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