President Barack Obama pledged the federal government’s full support for disaster relief in what is being called one of the most devastating tornadoes in history. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed a team to the state.
Monday’s devastation in Moore and Oklahoma City included two schools and miles of homes and businesses. The National Weather Service revised its damage estimate Tuesday afternoon to label Monday’s tornado as an EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
“The people of Moore, should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes,” Obama said. “There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms and classrooms and in time we’re going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community.”
The president signed a disaster relief order Monday night after speaking with Gov. Mary Fallin.
“Our hearts are just broken,” said Fallin, who asked the nation for prayers.
Recovery from the Moore tornado continued Monday night through Tuesday as rescue workers uncovered pieces of wreckage in search of survivors and to account for the dead.
“This has been a big tragedy for the state and I know it’s not easy to handle something of this magnitude,” Fallin said Tuesday. “I know that people have worked around the clock and have put in extremely long hours in extremely dangerous circumstances.”
The medical examiner’s office revised the death toll to 24 Tuesday, including nine children. Some 237 people, 58 of them children, have been treated so far at area hospitals. Fallin said the number of deaths from the Moore tornado was still being assessed for an accurate count. There were two deaths reported from the May 19 tornado that hit Shawnee.
“We have also heard that there may have been bodies that were taken to local funeral homes,” she said.
The disaster assistance benefits individuals and business owners impacted by the severe storms that occurred May 19 and May 20 in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Gov. Fallin noted with additional damage assessments other counties could be added to the declaration.
“There will also be legislation that we are working on right now in the Oklahoma Senate an the House that will be a legislative vehicle to be able to tap our state Rainy Day Savings account,” Fallin said.
An emergency fund is being created for the state to manage federal dollars to help local communities in need of services, Fallin said. The state has launched a website, okstrong.ok.gov, to provide up-to-date information and resources.
“I’ve also signed an executive order that will waive the weight limits for utilities that are coming into the state, and working in the state, to help get power restored in the state and get utilities services going again,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said state and federal agencies are working together to coordinate the search and rescue efforts.
“The congressional delegation and I will join Gov. Mary Fallin, local leaders and FEMA officials this afternoon to ensure that resources are best used to help all those in need,” Inhofe said.
Fallin said the state also experienced loss of life and homes on Sunday. It’s important that people begin registering their need for a place to stay with FEMA, said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. The primary response is being led by Gov. Fallin, he said. She encouraged victims and survivors to call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) for assistance. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are standing by to help the victims.
Moore residents in the tornado area are without water. The water pressure in Oklahoma City is low due to a water plant that was damaged, Fallin said.
Edmond Water Resources Superintendent Kris Neifing said Edmond water is fine. Rumors that the water is contaminated due to the recent storms is not true, he said.
Fallin asked for state employees affected by the tornado to work through their agency heads to get 15 days of administrative leave without having to take sick days or vacation leave in order to take care of their personal needs.
Clinic capacity is available in metro hospitals to care for those who are injured, Fallin said. Mental health shelters are being established, Fallin said, with a 1-800 number to be announced.
In addition, the IRS is offering tax relief to Oklahoma tornado victims with return filing and tax payment deadlines extended to Sept. 30.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will be ready with bulldozers to clear roads at some point in time in the future. People will be allowed to look for their possessions and lost property. The Department of Agriculture and Forestry also has brought in heavy equipment to assist with debris clearing.
Fallin with the United Way of Central Oklahoma has established the OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund to assist with the long-term medical, emotional and educational needs of victims of the May 20 tornado in Moore and Oklahoma City and the May 19 tornado near Shawnee as welll as the Edmond tornado on May 19 where 12 homes were either destroyed or damaged.
Donations for the long-term needs can be made by calling 405-236-8441 or donating online at www.unitedwayokc.org.
Responding agencies and organizations also are collaborating to organize resources to feed up to 40,000 people over the coming days, according to the state.
OG&E continues its work to restore power, Fallin said. More than 38,000 Oklahomans were without power; 20,000 of those being in Moore and Oklahoma City, Fallin said. Electricity has been restored in Edmond, according to Edmond Electric. AT&T and Verizon have been setting up mobile units to restore better communications in the area.
“We still got a lot of congestion on the cell system; we’ve still got towers down because of the power outages,” Fugate said. “Unless it’s an emergency — stay off the phones — allow people who need to get through to get through.”
Fugate asked people to let people know they are safe to help FEMA focus on the people who are actually missing.
“We’re going through that debris and we’re going to keep looking until everybody is found,” Fugate said.
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