Adrees Latif / Reuters
Taylor Tennyson sits in the front yard as family members salvage the remains of their home, devastated by the Moore tornado.
Authorities in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma turned their attention Wednesday from the search for victims to the colossal tasks of cleaning up miles of wreckage and helping perhaps thousands of people who lost their homes in the storm.
While they planned to keep looking, rescuers were increasingly confident that they had accounted for everyone killed or trapped by the tornado, which weather officials said packed wind stronger than 200 mph.
As cleanup crews faced acre after acre of wrecked homes, particularly in the shattered Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, heartbreaking portraits of the 24 people confirmed dead in the twister began to emerge.
Authorities had named seven victims by Wednesday morning, including at least four believed to be children. Among them were a third-grader remembered for her ever-present smile and a 65-year-old man separated from his wife when the tornado struck.
Federal relief workers set out trying to reach families displaced by the storm but said they faced challenges: Cellphones were not working in some places, and other people were focused on salvaging their belongings before they registered for help.
Joshua Lott / AFP - Getty Images
A monster tornado hit Moore, Okla., Monday afternoon, leaving at least 24 dead as the threat of further storms continues.
Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told MSNBC that about 1,000 people had registered with FEMA. He said teams would go through neighborhoods Wednesday looking for more.
“Right now it’s about getting people a place to stay who have lost their homes,” he said on “Morning Joe.” “We want to make sure they are getting the help they need.”
An Oklahoma City fire official said the search of debris was expected to be finished by 8 a.m. ET Wednesday. Authorities in Oklahoma planned a news briefing for early afternoon.
“As far as I know, of the list of people that we have had, that they are all accounted for in one way or another,” Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said on Tuesday. The Moore fire chief said he was 98 percent sure everyone had been found.
Gov. Mary Fallin said on Tuesday that there were 237 injured. One hospital, Oklahoma University Medical Center, said it had 93 patients from the twister, including 59 children.
Seven children were killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was all but leveled.
A tour given to NBC’s TODAY revealed forgotten everyday fixtures of grade school — a basketball covered by splinters of wood, a tattered map of the United States, a textbook about the volcano destruction at the ancient Italian city of Pompeii.
There were no official estimates of damage, but the Moore tornado was expected to be the most expensive in the United States since one that hit Joplin, Mo., two years ago Wednesday, killing 162 people and causing $3 billion in damage.
Weather authorities on Tuesday upgraded the Moore tornado from an EF4 rating to EF5, the most severe, meaning it had packed 200-mph winds.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano planned to travel to Moore on Wednesday to meet with the governor. Meanwhile, the people of Moore planned to keep combing through the ruins and salvaging what they could.
On Tuesday, David Kirsch clutched a recovered American flag and said: “This represents the hope that we can be better off. Because where else in the world could you walk away from this and get back up on your feet?”
Reuters contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 5:10 AM EDT