By FOX News Radio’s Jennifer Keiper in Moore, Oklahoma
People in the Oklahoma City area knew bad weather was coming, they were given a heads-up days in advance.
But when the skies darkened on Monday, May 20 they had just 16 minutes to take cover from what turned out to be an EF-5 tornado with estimated wind speeds of 200-210 miles per hour.
Cameras caught the formation of the tornado that touched down in Newcastle and traveled 17 miles to this point – Moore, Oklahoma.
One storm chaser is heard on videotape saying, “Look at that. That’s a house in the air.”
Sandi Jones who was working in a medical center here had ten patients with her, many elderly.
She says they took cover wherever they could and when the roof and walls came down and the storm moved on, she couldn’t believe it. One person crawled out, then a second, and another. All ten survived. “I didn’t expect to see anyone come out from under those desks,” Jones said.
She visited her former workplace two days after the storm and says she has given her daughter a big hug and is rethinking some things about life.
A Moore resident says, “They were pulling walls off of people and there were folks crawling out from everywhere and anywhere.”
Two elementary schools were in the path. Everyone made it out of Briarwood but at Plaza Towers Elementary School, a wall with a chalkboard on it was one of the few left standing and several children died after being buried under bricks and steel.
The schools didn’t have safe rooms.
The funerals started four days after the tornado with Antonia Candelaria’s family calling the nine-year-old the sweetest little “ladybug”.
Mikki Davis remembers her son’s love of soccer. Kyle Davis was a third grader.
“Tell your kids every night, every time you leave ’em, ‘I love you, I love you’ because you never know if it’s the last time you’re gonna see them,” Davis says.
The ages of the 24 victims range from four months to 70 years.
Charities have offered victims food and shelter but many have chosen to stay with family and friends.
Help is coming from across the country. A group in Olathe, Kansas has filled a semi bound for Moore with a sign that says “Olathe loves Moore.” Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has donated $1 million and visited some of the victims.
Country star Toby Keith is a Moore native. He returned to help his sister board up her windows. He points out one woman he met, as he walks through the rubble, “I met the most charming lady over here. Her house is down on her cars and she’s just smilin’ and chirping and that like the spirit of Oklahomans – it’s unbelievable.”
The singer says he’s already heard from folks in the music industry who want to help. He’s also working with the Mayor to find out what is needed, and is urging people to donate to the Red Cross.
Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis estimates thousands of houses have been damaged or destroyed, with a recovery bill that state insurance officials say could top $2 billion.
Resident James Rushing is like many others in Moore saying, “I don’t have a home to go back to.”
It’s hard to get around this town. “All the landmarks are gone. Things that have been here forever. There’s nothing but just rubble,” says Moore police Sergeant Jeremy Lewis.
The recovery work is now underway, hampered, at times, by bad weather.
Many of street signs are gone but the Mayor says new one are already being made.
Utility crews have spent days stringing new lines on poles.
And as debris is cleared, new ditches are dug to repair broken underground gas and water lines.
Once the houses start going up, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis says he wants to require that each one be equipped with a storm shelter. The cost and resistance to government mandates could make it a hard sell.
Lewis says it took 61 days to clean up after the powerful tornado that blew through this town in 1999.
A volunteer says, “with the community that this city has, I think that they’ll band together and pull through it.”
Dustin Majors, who came from Oklahoma City to help out friends, says even with setbacks, “like always, we’re Oklahoma. We have the Oklahoma spirit we’re gonna thunder up, we’re gonna ride up, we’re gonna git it.”
LISTEN to FOX News Radio’s Jennifer Keiper reporting from Moore, Oklahoma: