MOORE, Okla. – Rain drenched the tornado-devastated towns near Oklahoma City again Thursday as weary survivors began to bury their dead and find the strength to carry on.
Authorities said they don’t expect the death toll to rise beyond 24 – 10 of whom were children. More than 375 people were injured.
The first funeral was for Antonia Lee Candelaria, 9 – one of seven children killed when Monday’s tornado leveled Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.
In her obituary, “Tonie” was described as “a beautiful young lady on the inside and out” who could “find the positive, good and joy in everything.” She and her best friend, Emily Conatzer, also 9, “were inseparable, even in their last moments,” the obituary said. “They held on to one another and followed each other into heaven and they will never be alone.”
Another tornado victim, Megan Futrell, died trying to protect her 4-month-old son. Futrell, 29, a teacher at Highland West Junior High School in Moore, left to get him from daycare when she heard about the tornado. With the infant, Case, she took shelter at a 7-Eleven, but it offered no protection. She was found clutching the baby, both of them dead from blunt force trauma to the head.
“I want people to remember this woman for the love she had for her child,” said Pastor D.A. Bennett, Futrell’s childhood pastor, who will preside over their funerals Tuesday at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. “I think that this was a mother who wanted to do everything possible to protect her child. It was hard to protect anyone on that day.”
A memorial service for all the victims was set for Sunday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a news conference. President Barack Obama will be in the disaster area and is likely to attend.
Moore and other towns along the twister’s 17-mile path have a daunting cleanup task ahead. Property damages are estimated at $2 billion, utilities are still down in many areas and some businesses have been destroyed, and with them, jobs. Roads are heavily congested and police checkpoints intended to prevent looting are slowing cleanup, especially for those who lost IDs in the storm.
The wet weather, too, slowed recovery. Pelting rain combined with strong winds to knock down some relief tents, drenching supplies.