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One week later: The daunting recovery in Oklahoma

One week later: The daunting recovery in Oklahoma
Brian Yaklyvich/CNN
Monday, May 27, 2013 - 4:52pm

One week after a tornado devastated the lives and landscape of Moore, much of the city seems frozen in time. But despite the staggering wreckage that still litters the ground, the road to recovery is well under way.

Here's the latest on the Oklahoma tornado aftermath.

In the rubble, a shocking find

Desperately digging through the rubble where his house once stood, Tom Bridges made a shocking find on Monday: $2,000 worth of crisp bills.

He had kept the money in an envelope tucked away atop a window sill -- a place hidden from view and seemingly safe. But when last week's storm blasted his house to bits, the money went missing.

The 68-year-old man and a couple dozen volunteers spent Monday morning combing through rubble that was once his home, searching for the envelope.

At one point, they stood in a circle and prayed for the money to turn up. After hours of searching through wreckage 5 feet deep, it did.

"All of a sudden, I saw the window sill. ... I picked that up, and there it was," Bridges said shortly after the find, his voice cracking. "I just, I couldn't believe it. It was a miracle."

He said he hopes to use the money to buy a new pickup, since the storm totaled his vehicles.

"Right now, money is money. I got the clothes on my back and a new toothbrush I bought," he said. "It means a lot. It's just these little things like that really bring some joy in my heart, which I need."

Remembering those lost

Thousands of residents poured into First Baptist Church in Moore for a public memorial and prayer service Sunday night. Tissues in each of the pews greeted the mourners.

"It was pretty amazing celebrating all of the people that died and that lived," third-grader Ally Keepers told CNN affiliate KOCO.

Ally was inside Plaza Towers Elementary School with the tornado shredded the building and killed seven of her schoolmates.

"Some of my friends died, and I was so upset that Kyle Davis died," Ally said. "I was crying. I went to the cemetery and put some flowers out there for him."

Debby Goss of nearby Shawnee said the mass gathering was therapeutic.

"I think it was probably the start of healing for the community," she said.

"This was a good time for them to see each other in one place that wasn't a rescue center or a disaster area. ... There was a peaceful place for them to just sit and think about the other people that are here to support them and help."

Obama tours devastated area

President Barack Obama saw the destruction up close Sunday and vowed to support residents long after the media leaves.

"As fellow Americans, we're going to be there as shelter from the storm for the people of Moore who have been impacted," Obama said.

He praised local officials, first responders and school principals for their efforts after the storm, which killed 24 people, injured more than 375 others and damaged or demolished 12,000 homes in the Oklahoma City area.

Speaking from the wreckage of Plaza Towers Elementary, Obama called on Americans to help with relief efforts.

"It's going to take a long time for this community to rebuild, so I want to urge every American to step up," he said, suggesting citizens donate to the American Red Cross website.

Governor: We need help now

Shortly before Obama's visit, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said her chief request for the federal government was help plowing through regulatory hurdles.

"Basically, what I need is the ability to get through red tape, the ability to get the FEMA funds in here quickly and to get the services that our citizens need to help them recover through this terrible disaster," Fallin said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Fallin, a Republican, said the initial reaction from the federal government in assisting her state was fast and effective.

"So far, we have had great response," she said, quickly adding that there was a long way to go before Moore returns to normal.

"This is a massive debris field," she said. "It's not just a couple blocks. It's miles."

Schools across town destroyed

Weekend graduation festivities in Moore were infused with reminders of the tragic tornado.

When Southmoore High's Alyson Costilla walked across the stage to get her diploma, about a dozen people in the crowd stood and held up pictures of her mother, who died in a 7-Eleven ravaged by the powerful winds.

The cost of rebuilding classrooms for Moore's students will be enormous.

The city's public schools suffered $45 million in damage, including the two elementary schools that were leveled. Overall, insurance claims related to last week's storm will probably top $2 billion, said Kelly Collins from the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

Strangers rush to help

The cleanup can be arduous, if not overwhelming.

Caleb Allison stared at the mass of debris that covered the yard where his home once stood.

"Who's going to come get it?" the high school Spanish teacher wondered last week.

But his mammoth problem was quickly solved Sunday with the help of students, parent-teacher association members and fellow teachers from his school and the elementary school where his wife teaches.

"We probably had 70 to 80 people in our front yard, and we cleaned it in a matter of 30 minutes," he said.

Morgan DeLong, one of the volunteers, said many whose homes survived the storm are eager to help.

"It's kind of our turn to return that blessing and help people out," she said. "It's amazing to just look out and see how our community's coming together."

-- CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta; Rene Marsh reported from Moore. CNN's Marlena Baldacci, Jeff Kepnes, Dana Ford, George Howell and Nick Valencia also contributed to this report.

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