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Stars gather in Oklahoma City to raise money for victims of deadly tornado

With a tornado threat in the forecast for Wednesday night, some of the biggest names in country music are gathering to raise money for victims of the twister that ripped through Oklahoma last week.

Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire and Vince Gill are among the headliners for “Healing in the Heartland,” which begins Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. Oklahoma time, and will air on NBC and the cable networks Style, G4, Bravo, E! and CMT. It will also be available on NBCNews.com and on the NBC News Xbox app.

The proceeds will go entirely to the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s tornado relief fund, which has already raised $3 million, said Karla Bradshaw, a spokeswoman.

The tornado on May 20 leveled parts of Oklahoma City and the suburb of Moore, killing 24 people. Forecasters warned Wednesday that Oklahoma and other parts of the Plains were at risk for more tornadoes later in the day.

The stars aren’t limited to country music: Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Usher are also scheduled to perform. The concert was put together by Blake Shelton of NBC’s “The Voice,” who was born in Oklahoma and still lives there.

“I’m gonna call in all the favors that I have out there,” Shelton said, “and we’re gonna come through this thing like Oklahomans always do, and we’re gonna stand strong together.”

Shelton also helped organize two concerts that raised $500,000 after tornadoes raked Oklahoma in 2011. He and Lambert, his wife, sang a tribute to the Oklahoma victims last week on “The Voice.”

An estimated 1,150 structures, including some businesses, were destroyed by the tornado, which swept through Moore, Newcastle and the southern part of Oklahoma City on a 17-mile path of destruction that flattened entire neighborhoods. Besides the 24 killed, including 9 children, nearly 400 people were injured and thousands more were affected in some way.

Among those in attendance Wednesday night will be victims whose homes were damaged or destroyed, said local concert organizer Jennifer Kiersch. Fire and police officials from Moore and other first responders will also be there, she said.

According to United Way of Central Oklahoma’s CEO, Debby Hampton, the money raised by the concert will likely pay for the needs of tornado victims not covered by insurance or other disaster relief agencies.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach,” Hampton said. “Caseworkers will sit down with the families and figure out what each family needs.”

Nearly 1,200 structures, including some businesses, were destroyed by the tornado, which swept through Moore, Newcastle and the southern part of Oklahoma City on a 17-mile path of destruction that flattened entire neighborhoods.

Oklahoma Insurance Department officials estimate that the affected areas may have suffered up to $2 billion in damage.

President Barack Obama, who visited Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School on Sunday where seven children died, has issued a major disaster declaration for Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties in Oklahoma.

The money raised by the concert could go to medical bills, insurance deductibles, job assistance and other longer term needs, Hampton said. All donations will be accounted for, and reports will be generated so donors can track where precisely the money goes.

The concert will be indoors at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. It sold out in five minutes when tickets went on sale last week, but organizers planned to release additional tickets Wednesday morning.

The United Way is also managing the OK Strong disaster relief fund, announced after the tornado last week by Gov. Mary Fallin. That fund has raised $2 million, Bradshaw said.

The National Weather Service forecasted "a few brief tornadoes," along with strong winds, golf-ball sized hail, heavy rain and flooding in Central Oklahoma into Wednesday evening. 

The arena has a basement and stairwells that can accommodate everyone at the event in case of a tornado, according to Hampton.

Tom Pennington / Getty Images

A monster tornado in Oklahoma last week left 24 people dead.

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