Oklahoma Insurance Department spokeswoman Calley Herth told The Associated Press that the early damage tally is based on visual assessments of the extensive disaster zone that stretches more than 17 miles and the fact that Monday's tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes.
The financial cost of the tornado in Moore could be greater than the $2 billion in damage from the 2011 tornado that killed 158 people in Joplin, Mo., Herth said, adding that the Joplin twister left a smaller trail of destruction.
Authorities have yet to say how many homes were damaged or destroyed, but an aerial view of the site shows whole neighborhoods obliterated, with gouged earth littered with splintered wood and pulverized cars.
Dan Ramsey, president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, said a damage estimate in the low billions is "not surprising."
"Certainly it's in the hundreds of millions," Ramsey said. "I suppose seeing projections from similar disasters, it could stretch to a billion" or more.
With no reports of anyone still missing, the Oklahoma medical examiner's office announced that it has positively identified 23 of the 24 people who died in the tornado, and that 10 of those killed are children.
All of the children have been identified, among them 4-month-old Case Futrell and 7-month-old Sydnee Vargyas. Both babies died from head injuries. The eight other children ranged in age from 4 years to 9 years. Of those, six were suffocated. The other two died from massive injuries.
Medical examiner's office spokeswoman Amy Elliott said they are still trying to contact relatives of eight of the victims.
Authorities and residents of Moore have started to assess the damage and plot a future course for Moore, a town of about 56,000 that was also hit by a massive tornado in 1999.
Mayor Glen Lewis said Wednesday he would propose an ordinance in the next couple of days to modify building codes to require that every new home in the town would have a reinforced tornado shelter.
Lewis said he was confident he would get the four votes he needs on the six-member council to pass the ordinance. The measure could be in force within months.
Underground safe rooms are typically built below garages and can cost around $4,000.
The Texas Task Force 1 left early this morning for Oklahoma. The Red Cross is also sending at least two volunteers this morning and if you want to help, you can but you're asked to do it from right here in Houston.
The easiest way to help is to text the Red Cross. If you send the message Red Cross to the number 9-0-9-9-9, you'll send a $10 donation. You can also call 1-800-Red-Cross anytime.
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