In US tornado's wake, rain hampers relief effort

Torrential rains hampered rescue and relief efforts Tuesday in this Oklahoma City suburb reeling from one of the worst tornadoes in the United States in the years.

Police roadblocks strictly controlled access to the section of Moore, a residential suburb of 55,000 residents, laid to waste by Monday's mid-afternoon twister, allowing only residents with proper ID to pass.

Even then, one sheriff's deputy told AFP during a break from roadblock duty, the multiple-block area remains very much a danger zone with downed power lines spilling onto rain-sodden streets and yards carpeted with building debris.

Police put the death toll at around 24, with nearly everyone accounted for.

"It's unreal. It's so visceral," said accountant Roger Graham, 32, as he combed through the ruins of the three-bedroom "normal suburban dwelling" he shared with his wife Kalissa, a school teacher, recovering what he could.

Both were at work in nearby Norman when the tornado struck, escaping personal injury, but upon returning home Tuesday -- after two hours of battling traffic -- the Grahams were as much surprised by what they found as what they lost.

"My house is just a big pile of rubble, yet we found a (ceramic) jar intact," Graham told AFP. He also unearthed a medal from a half-marathon he ran for a memorial to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

On traffic-congested Route 37, along the northern perimeter of the disaster zone, shards of wood, bits of roofing shingles, even a piece of foam cushion were seen littering the curb.

From the southwest, moving in the same direction as Monday's tornado, thunderstorms swept through in the early afternoon, jabbing the prairie with lightning bolts and dumping enough rain to briefly flood some side streets.

Neighborhoods just a few miles (kilometers) to the north reported no water or electricity, despite being clear of the tornado's path. Many stores and restaurants closed early, for lack of utilities or customers.

The scope of Monday's tornado -- which roughly followed the same track as a May 1999 twister that killed 44 people -- was evident to passengers on flights coming into Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, west of Moore.

On final approach, they could make out the exact spot where the tornado touched down, from which a wide brown swath of upturned earth stretched into the distance, as if a giant had come through with a monster garden tiller.

Graham, who owned his house for five years and looked to his insurance policy to cover his losses, was gratified by an outpouring of support from friends, neighbors and his brother who is putting him up for the time being.

"There's no lack of support out here," he said. "We're just trying to figure out what's next."

While speaking with AFP, Graham's next-door neighbors made their own joyful discovery amid the devastation -- the family cat, which apparently survived the twister only a little worse for wear.

"They thought she was gone," Graham said. "It looks like she's in good shape."

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