MOORE — Emotionally shaken but not defeated, Superintendent Susan Pierce stood at a news conference Thursday and declared Moore schools will open in August.
“We will rebuild and we will reopen and we will have school in August,” Pierce said. “We will do whatever it takes to take care of our students, their families and our school staff.”
Her voice then quavered as she confirmed that all students at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven third-graders died in Monday's tornado, have now been found. The first funeral was conducted Thursday morning.
Many people want to make sure Moore schools have tornado safe rooms next school year.
Local state Reps. Mark McBride and Jon Echols announced they were in the initial stages of setting up a yet-to-be-named nonprofit corporation that will accept contributions for the construction of safe rooms in Oklahoma schools.
Apache Corp. already has agreed to donate $500,000 to be used to build safe rooms for Moore schools, McBride said.
The official death count from Monday's storm remained at 24 on Thursday, but state officials raised the injury total to 377. Two others died Sunday in another tornado west of Shawnee.
No official property damage assessment has been completed for Sunday's and Monday's storms. However, preliminary aerial surveys show an estimated 1,150 homes were destroyed, said Keli Cain of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. It will be several days before official damage counts are completed and released, Cain said.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said insured property losses could exceed $2 billion.
Pierce said the destructive end to the 2012-13 school year left students and their parents with a lot of unusual problems.
The district plans to conduct high school graduation exercises as scheduled Saturday, but Pierce said many families are wondering how they will get to ceremonies at Oklahoma City's Cox Convention Center because they now lack transportation.
“We are working on that,” she said, but noted several buses in the school's fleet have broken windows and other damage.
Pierce said she also wanted to allay concerns by saying school buildings would not be cleared of students' belongings until students are given plenty of opportunity to recover them.
The superintendent said she has spoken to several of the teachers who risked their lives to protect children as the tornado hit and debris started flying. Some of those teachers have agreed to meet with the media in the days ahead, she said.
“Those people will be your heroes,” she said. “They are mine today.”
Government officials and relief workers made several announcements Thursday. Highlights include:
• A memorial service to honor and remember victims of Sunday's and Monday's tornadoes will be held 6 p.m. Sunday at the First Baptist Church, 301 NE 27, in Moore. A large crowd is expected and shuttle transportation service will be provided from Crossroads Mall.
• The House and Senate have approved tapping the state's Rainy Day Fund for $45 million to assist communities with relief efforts. The bill is on its way to the governor.
• Relief supplies have been pouring in to local churches and charities, and the University of Oklahoma has agreed to open up Lloyd Noble Center to handle semitrailer loads of donated items that are heading to the Moore area from across the country.
• So far, about 2,200 people have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can be contacted by calling (800) 621-3362. A variety of assistance is available and people should call if they had storm damage, regardless of whether they rent or own their homes.
• Crews have made major progress clearing roads in the disaster area. Security checkpoints remain, but residents can get in during daylight hours to begin cleaning up.
• Assistance for people who lost birth and death certificates can be obtained at the Cleveland County Health Department.
• People who are out of work because of the storm should contact the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to check on unemployment benefits.
• The Oklahoma City-County, Cleveland, and McClain County health departments, along with the state Health Department are offering tetanus shots at several locations. A Health Department official cautioned residents to throw out any food that might be spoiled due to a lack of electricity.
• A Moore library official said local libraries will be offering Internet access to people who need it. Copiers and printers also are available.