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One week later: The daunting recovery in Oklahoma

Oklahoma recovery from storm devastation is underway
MOORE, Oklahoma (CNN) — One week after a tornado devastated the lives and landscape of Moore, much of the city seems frozen in time. But despite the rubble, the road to recovery is well underway. Here’s the latest on the Oklahoma tornado aftermath:

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 — that 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 first-hand 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 work 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 for Americans to donate to help storm 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

As Obama got a firsthand look at the debris left by the tornado, the state’s governor told CNN that her chief request for the federal government is 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,” Gov. Mary 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 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 were infused by reminders of the tragic storm.

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 astronomical.

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 likely 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 the mammoth dilemma was quickly solved on Sunday with the help of students, parent-teacher association members and fellow teachers from his school and Heritage Trails Elementary, where his wife teaches music.

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

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

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