THE cost of the massive Oklahoma tornado destroyed or damaged as many as 13,000 homes and could cost $2 billion (£1.3bn), according to early estimates.
The sum is based on visual assessments of the damage zone stretching more than 17 miles and the fact the tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes.
An Oklahoma insurance department official said the cost of Monday’s tornado in Moore could be greater than that from the 2011 tornado that killed 158 people in Joplin, Missouri.
With no reports of anyone still missing and with the death toll at 24, nine of them children, officials and residents have turned toward assessing the damage and plotting a future course for Moore, a town of about 56,000 which was also wrecked by a tornado in 1999.
Between 12,000 and 13,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and 33,000 people affected in some way by the storm, said Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett. He also put the monetary damage estimate at up to $2bn.
Officials have yet to present final numbers for how many homes were damaged or destroyed, but aerial images reveal whole neighbourhoods torn apart with gouged earth littered with splintered wood and pulverised cars.
Rescue workers have been searching tirelessly for survivors and victims, and they planned to keep going – sometimes checking the debris where homes once stood three times. They were not certain how many properties were destroyed or how many families had been displaced. Emergency workers had trouble navigating devastated areas because all the street signs had been destroyed. Some rescuers used smartphones or GPS to guide them through areas devoid of landmarks.
Moore fire chief Gary Bird said he was confident there are no more bodies or survivors in the rubble. Every damaged home had been searched at least once, he said, but his goal was to conduct three searches of every building just to be sure.
From the air, large stretches of Moore could be seen where every home had been cut to pieces. Some homes were sucked off their concrete foundations. A pond was filled with piles of wood and an overturned caravan. Also visible were large patches of red earth where the tornado scoured the land down to the soil. Some tree trunks were still standing, but the winds ripped away their leaves.
Officials revised the death toll down from 51 to 24 on Tuesday after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been double-counted in the confusion immediately after the storm. More than 200 people were treated at local hospitals.
Search-and-rescue teams focused their efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the storm ripped off the roof, knocked down walls and destroyed the playground as students and teachers huddled in corridors and toilets.
Seven of children died at the school, but others were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and volunteers.
Plaza Towers and another school in Oklahoma City that was not as severely damaged did not have reinforced storm shelters or safe rooms.
President Barack Obama pledged to provide federal help and mourned children killed while “trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew – their school”.
Dan Ramsey, president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, said a damage estimate in the low billions was “not surprising”.
“Certainly it’s in the hundreds of millions,” he said. “I suppose seeing projections from similar disasters, it could stretch to a billion [dollars]” or more.
The National Weather Service said the tornado was a top-of-the-scale EF5 twister with winds of at least 200mph – the first EF5 tornado of 2013.