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Powerful Tornado Struck Moore, Okla., 1 Week Ago


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

Just a week ago at this time, the people of Moore, Oklahoma were going about their daily lives as usual. But weather forecasters were already on high alert for a dangerous storm.

The forecasters were right to be concerned. The EF-5 tornado that hit Moore last Monday afternoon was among the most powerful ever measured. By the time that funnel cloud relented, 24 people were dead, and some 12,000 homes had been damaged.

President Obama toured the wreckage yesterday, promising federal help during what is sure to be a long rebuilding process. The president's message was not overtly political. But he did take the opportunity to highlight the important role the government can play - not just when disaster strikes.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.


SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama stood amidst the wreckage of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, framed by toppled cinder blocks, twisted metal and soggy insulation.


HORSLEY: Some of the homes in the surrounding neighborhood are boarded up with plywood. But on the hardest-hit lots, there's nothing left to pound a nail into, just piles of shattered timbers. Still, in a sign of the residents' determination, some of those piles have fresh American flags sprouting from them.


HORSLEY: Just down the road, at the Abundant Life Church, volunteers were offering food, water and prayers. In this deeply religious community, the president relayed the story of a Bible that was found in the wreckage of an earlier tornado. It was opened to a passage from Isaiah: And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind.



HORSLEY: Last night, the First Baptist Church in Moore hosted an interfaith prayer service for the tornado's victims, titled Oklahoma Strong: Coming Together in Faith.

Earlier, the president praised all those who've given their time, resources and spare couches to help their neighbors in need.


HORSLEY: At a firehouse in Moore that's serving as a command center, the president thanked the police and firefighters who responded to the storm. Later, he met with forecasters from the National Weather Service, who began sounding the alarm about possible severe weather in Oklahoma five days before the tornado struck. Last Monday morning, those forecasters held a conference call to alert hospitals and school officials that the danger would be especially high right around the time school was getting out that afternoon.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the earlier-than-average warnings from the weather service gave those in the path of the storm a precious few minutes head-start.


HORSLEY: A week later, the survivors are coming to grips with the massive cleanup and rebuilding job that lies ahead. The mayor of Moore, Glenn Lewis, says the town is already printing up new street signs. And Obama promised the federal government will stand alongside Oklahomans every step of the way.


HORSLEY: The president will try to underscore that message tomorrow when he visits the Jersey Shore, where businesses are now reopening for the summer season, seven months after Hurricane Sandy.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.