MOORE — The rush to dispose of tornado debris is about to begin.
Cities pummeled by this week's tornado are expected to have cleanup plans set by the end of the holiday weekend, a federal emergency response official said Friday.
Once those plans are in place, contractors will begin hauling away the bricks, lumber, cars and trucks, and personal belongings shredded when Monday's tornado cut from Newcastle through southwest Oklahoma City and Moore.
The federal government will reimburse cities for 85 percent of the cost in the first 30 days.
“The federal family is going to be here for as long as we are needed,” said Justo Hernandez, a Federal Emergency Management Agency team leader. “We're not in any hurry.”
Homeowners whose houses were damaged or destroyed are expected to move debris to the curb, where heavy equipment will lift it into trucks for the trip to a landfill.
Once it's at the curb, it will be hauled away at no cost to homeowners.
For many, insurance will cover the cost of piling up debris.
Officials warned homeowners to be wary of fraud when hiring private contractors for that work.
In some cases, the cities may — with a homeowners' permission — bring heavy equipment in to do the job.
Residents on Friday continued sifting through debris, looking for lost keepsakes.
“We want to give people as much time as we possibly can,” said Elizabeth Jones, Moore's community development director.
Still, there's a developing sense of urgency as the clock begins counting down on FEMA's deadline for providing the highest level of reimbursement.
“At this point, I really don't feel any pressure from FEMA,” Jones said. “We're pretty happy with the way things are going. That could change.”
Oklahoma City plans to have contractors make two sweeps in June and July, beginning with the most heavily damaged areas.
City officials recommended separating hazardous waste such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, pool chemicals and household cleaners from other debris.
Officials estimate nearly 1,200 homes were destroyed across central Oklahoma — most in Moore and Oklahoma City — in the May 19 and 20 storms.
Hernandez said the cities' debris removal plans will outline how debris will be picked up, sorted and disposed of. The plans will set deadlines for completing the work and provide for adherence to local, state and federal law, he said.
The process was well underway Friday in Newcastle, in Country Club Estates, where the tornado first touched down.
Oklahoma County District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan sent crews into the neighborhood to help volunteers move debris to the edge of the street and haul away downed trees.
More than 200 volunteers joined the effort Thursday, and more than 400 were there Friday.
Grady Grandstaff, 67, has a three-acre home site on North Country Club Road, lined before Monday with 150 sycamore trees. Before Monday, he also had a barn.
County crews and volunteers cleared away the downed trees and barn, and helped with debris from the house, which was heavily damaged.
It was something of a marvel to Grandstaff. He said it took 10 weeks to have ice storm debris hauled away four or five years ago.
“Here, I'm getting it hauled off in the same week I had the tornado,” he said.