As the effort turns from local rescue to national response, recovery, mourning, and resilience, they're picking up the pieces on Wednesday in Moore, Oklahoma. The injured are still being treated, victims are slowly being identified, and now residents face the long process of obtaining government assistance to get back to some sort of normal — and it's likely, despite FEMA's early "Waffle House index," that insurance won't cover all the damage. Not nearly. Here's the state of the town, on Day Three:
After initial reports of 90 dead, it looks like the revised death toll of 24 may stick. "As far as I know, of the list of people that we have had that they are all accounted for in one way or another," Oklahoma County commissioner Brian Maughan told reporters Tuesday night. Translation: Dead or alive, there are no more missing people in Moore — a town with a population of around 55,000 — including no children unaccounted for, as Matt Lauer reported on Today this morning.
"There's going to be more of a transition to recovery," Jerry Lojka, the spokesman for Oklahoma's office of emergency management, said late Tuesday. Which means, along with a massive cleanup operation, we're also starting to meet some of the victims.
Of the 24 dead, we know that nine are children. Seven of them went to school at Plaza Towers Elementary school, which gets the horrifying tick-tock treatment in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal today. (There were heroes there, to be sure, and the Moore schools superintendent insists educators did everything they could.) One of the fatalities, according to NBC News, was a three-month-old baby. Let's put some faces to names.
- One of the children lost at Plaza Towers has been identified as nine-year-old Ja'Nae Hornsby, a third grader at Plaza Towers. "She was always happy, always smiling," Hornsby's aunt told NBC News. Ja'Nae was at Plaza Towers when the tornado struck — it hit right before the end of the school day. Her father, Joshua, as NBC News reports, tried to race to Plaza Towers before the tornado struck, but got stuck in traffic:
... by the time he got to Moore, the grade school had been reduced to a pile of rubble, its parking lot transformed into a triage area for surviving students being pulled from the debris. .... Joshua Hornsby also lost his house to the twister. His youngest child, who was picked up from daycare by her grandmother, survived.
Ja'Nae's mother had died in 2012, after losing a battle to lupus.
(Photo via Facebook)
- Kyle Davis, an eight-year-old student at Plaza Towers, has also been confirmed dead. His mother spoke to The Daily Mail, saying that she believed Kyle was alive at first, because initial reports had said that the twister missed the school. "He was very good in school, he had As and Bs, he was no trouble. I'll miss everything, how he was allergic to peanuts – we found out when his grandad gave him a girl scout cookie. He was loveable, playful," his mother, Mikki Dixon, said. "They said that he died instantly, that some debris fell on the back of his neck and pushed his head into the cement."
(Photo via Facebook)
- The tornado also took the life of 65-year-old Hermant Bhonde. Bhonde's family was searching for him on Tuesday:
Hemant Bhonde is missing following the Moore tornado. His family needs information. Please call OKC police if seen. twitter.com/MLauer/status/…— Matt Lauer (@MLauer) May 21, 2013
Officials in Moore identified Bhonde as one of the fatalities. His family had told NBC News that he and his wife had been separated during the storm — she survived.
- The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the names of seven people killed. In addition to Davis, Bhonde, and Hornsby, they include Sydney Angle, Megan Futrell, Case Futrell and Antonia Lee Candelaria. Angle (pictured at left, via Facebook), another third-grade student at Plaza Towers, was declared missing on Tuesday. Update: More victim names and ages have been released by the medical examiner's office.
The Financial Reality
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will join Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate on the ground in Moore today, where FEMA already has at least 300 people working on impact measurement and assessment. Fugate has been praised — at least as an upgrade over the Michael Brown era with Katrina — particularly for his so-called "Waffle House index" of informal disaster measurement. The Guardian explains:
If the local Waffle House is up and running, serving a full menu, a disaster is classed as green. If it is running with an emergency generator and serving only a limited menu, it is a yellow. If it is closed, badly damaged or totally destroyed, as during hurricane Katrina, it is a red.
They're at stage yellow in Moore, with the town's only Waffle House expected to be back in operations soon, but other local businesses — and local residents with flattened homes and few remaining possessions — have a much longer road ahead. As of Wednesday morning, "[m]ore than 1,000 people had already registered for assistance" from FEMA, Reuters reported. As we know from too many natural disasters, the agency doles out grants that cover everything from temporary housing to business reimbursements. But if we can draw from the national reaction to FEMA and Hurricane Sandy victims, some Moore residents can expect a long — and perhaps exasperating — journey to get the help they need.
As we know now, FEMA has spent at least $4 billion on Hurricane Sandy. Most of that, as The Wire's Philip Bump wrote, went to the "National Flood Insurance Program, which is designed to supplement homeowner and business insurance policies." And to this day, there are still legal battles between Sandy victims and insurance companies who want to deny their claims. The same might happen in Moore. The Huffington Post's Kim Bhasin reports that the grim reality is simple: Some Oklahomans will find that their insurance won't cover all the damages. "Many residents affected by tornado damage in Oklahoma are renters, and are unlikely to have an insurance policy to cover any losses at all," Bhasin writes, and the experts she consulted say this may affect the mobile homes and apartment complexes destroyed in the tornado.
Indeed, to that end, perhaps the best recent example for the future of Moore comes from Joplin, Missouri, where a devastating scene unfolded in 2011 — and from where a team has already dispatched to help with their own lessons of recovery. CNBC reports that the majority of the insurance payouts in Joplin went to businesses, which if Bhasin's info hold true, might becoming a similar situation in Moore:
The Joplin tornado marked the biggest insurance payout in the history of Missouri, with 61,000 claims generating $2.16 billion by May 2012, according to a data analysis from the Insurance Information Institute. Per the same study, the bulk of the payouts went not to private owners but commercial policyholders, who received about 64 percent of the money ($1.39 billion). Homeowners received approximately $675 million, or 31 percent of the total claims. A good chunk of that money likely went toward rebuilding – Joplin issued building permits for $310 million worth of construction in the year following the tornado.
Right now, however, it's far too early for the Moore estimates to be clear. Teams all across town are still trying to figure out exactly how much damage this tornado caused and what that adds up to in dollars. As a reference point, the Joplin tornado caused about $2.8 billion in damage.