Oklahoma tornado damage estimate tops $2 billion

MOORE, Okla. The cost of a massive tornado that battered an Oklahoma City suburb could be more than $2 billion, according to a preliminary estimate announced Wednesday by the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

Spokeswoman Calley Herth told The Associated Press that the early tally is based on visual assessments of the extensive damage zone stretching more than 17 miles and the fact that the tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes.

She said the financial cost of Monday's 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 that twister left a smaller trail of destruction.

With no reports of anyone still missing and with the death toll at 24 people, authorities and residents turned Wednesday toward assessing the damage and plotting a future course for Moore, a town of about 56,000 which was also hit by a massive tornado in 1999.

Authorities have yet to present concrete numbers for how many homes were damaged or destroyed, but the view from the air shows whole neighborhoods obliterated, with gouged earth littered with splintered wood and pulverized cars.

Moore Police spokesman Jeremy Lewis estimated earlier about a quarter of the homes in Moore were damaged or destroyed. That would amount to 4,000-to-5,000 houses.

Federal, state and local officials have assured residents there will be ample funds for recovery. President Obama has promised "full focus" on the effort, while Okla. Sen. Tom Coburn said that as the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), "I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay."

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.

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