Oklahoma tornado took town's youngest as it swept through
A band of thunderstorms battered the Oklahoma City area Thursday, slowing cleanup operations in the suburb where a tornado killed 24 people and destroyed thousands of homes this week.
The first of the funerals, for a 9-year-old girl killed at a Moore elementary school that took a direct hit in Monday's storm, was scheduled for Thursday morning. A family photo showed the girl, Antonia Candelaria, beaming with a big smile and wearing a white sun hat.
Early estimates indicate the tornado caused more than $2 billion of damage in Moore. Whole subdivisions in the fast-growing community of 56,000 people were destroyed. Authorities estimated that as many as 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 33,000 people were affected an especially traumatic toll for a city that had already suffered three other tornados since 1998.
Two elementary schools were hit one was leveled by Monday's tornado. Candelaria was one of seven children who perished at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, a one story building with barely a wall left standing. Altogether, 10 children were killed in the storm, including two infants.
The medical examiner reported that six of the children who died at Plaza Towers suffocated after being buried under a mass of bricks, steel and other materials as the building collapsed. A seventh child who died there, 8-year-old Kyle Davis, was killed instantly by an object perhaps a large piece of stone or a beam that fell on the back of his neck.
Thursday's thunderstorms produced hail, heavy rain and high winds in the morning. A flash flood warning was also in effect. The National Weather Service said more severe storms were forecast for late afternoon and at night, and that more tornados were a possibility.
The weather was hampering cleanup and recovery efforts that had just begun to accelerate now that all of the missing have been accounted for. Residents were only formally allowed back into the damage zone on Wednesday afternoon, where they picked through enormous piles of debris.
Here is more on some of the victims.
JaNae Hornsby, 9
One of seven children killed inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School, JaNae loved to draw and sing. She loved being the center of attention, her father said.
JaNae's house, just three blocks from the school, also was destroyed by the tornado. Her father wanted to go back to the property to see if he could find a few of JaNae's things to keep.
"JaNae was the life of the party. If JaNae was there you were having a good time. She liked to sing, be a big sister, be a big cousin. She liked to draw," he said, smiling, as he remembered his little girl.
As family gathered to make funeral arrangements and comfort one another, Hornsby looked behind him into the house.
"If she was here she would just have everybody laughing and she would be in the midst of everything. She loved the spotlight," he said.
Karrina Vargyas, 4
Karrina was not quite old enough to be at school like her two older siblings. So she was at home huddled in a bathtub with her mother, younger sister and grandmother.
The tornado threw the women and children in different directions. Her parents could not find Karrina that night. It was only later that they learned that searchers had found Karrina's body in the rubble of what had been a neighbor's house.
Her father, Phillip Vargyas, said Karrina "had a smile that would light up the room." And whenever he fells the pain of her loss, her father said he likes to think of Karrina giving him a little hug.
"She was something else," Phillip Vargyas told The Oklahoman newspaper. "She wanted to figure skate. That was her dream in life."
Sydnee Vargyas, 7 months
Just 7 months old, Sydnee had crawled for the first time on Sunday. But she never really got to enjoy her newfound freedom.
Sydnee was huddled in the bathtub of her south Oklahoma City home with her older sister, mother and grandmother as a tornado bore down on them. The strong winds pulled Sydnee out of her mother's grasp.
When the debris stopped swirling, Laurinda Vargyas said she found Sydnee on a driveway.
"She was just laying there helpless. All I could do was sit there and hold her. She was already gone," Laurinda Vargyas told The Oklahoman newspaper. "They say she didn't suffer. So I've got to find peace with that."
Terri Long, 49
Long, a mother of three, was driving home from her job as a registrar at the Federal Aviation Administration when she stopped at a 7-Eleven store about 2 miles from her home. That's where she died when the tornado hit.
"I have no idea why she stopped there; I'm still trying to figure that out," said her husband of 10 years, Ken Long, his voice cracking with sorrow. But he has a guess: "She was probably trying to get away" from the tornado.
For several hours after the tornado, Long didn't know of his wife's fate not until her brother called her cellphone, and a police officer answered by saying her purse had been found at the convenience store.
Terri Long may have fared no better had she made it home. Her husband, who was at work at the time of the tornado, said their house was destroyed, too. A couple of days after the tornado, Long still didn't even have any pictures of his wife in his possession. He had only memories.
"She was just a happy person that loved her kids and family, loved Harleys and loved to be outside," Ken Long said.
A funeral was planned Friday for Terri Long. She would have turned 50 on Monday.
Kyle Davis, 8
He was known to his friends as "The Wall."
It was a tribute to the ferocity Kyle brought to his beloved sport, soccer, and the way other players seemed to bounce off him as they went for the ball, said his grandfather, Marvin Dixon.
Kyle was among six 9-year-olds who died in the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Kyle had taken shelter in the school's gymnasium with dozens of other students.
"He was in the position that the teacher told them to be in crouched down with their hands over their heads," Dixon said. "The medical examiner said either some big rock or beam or something fell right on the back of his neck. He said he died instantly."
It would take a sizeable force to bring down Kyle's large but playful personality.
"He was a pretty big kid," Dixon said. "Whenever he had the ball, other kids would just bounce off of him. That's why they called him that. ... He was just the kindest, most giving kid you would ever meet. He had a grin from ear to ear."
Christopher Legg, 9
Christopher's years were defined by courage in the face of daunting illness.
Diagnosed with skin cancer and Osgood-Schlatter disease an illness which can cause painful inflammation in the knees of young athletes Christopher nevertheless loved to play sports and "roughhouse and wrestle with his Daddy" and his brother and sister, according to a statement issued by the family.
He was among the children inside Plaza Towers when the tornado hit.
"He is not in pain, but in joy with our Lord," the statement said.
"He was greatly loved by all who knew him," the family said. "He never met a stranger. You were always a friend in his eyes. Just last Sunday, his grandfather remarked that Christopher was going to play center for the University of Oklahoma someday."
Megan Futrell, 29, and Case Futrell, 3 months.
Futrell had picked up young Case from a babysitter as the storm approached Moore. She eventually took shelter in a nearby convenience store at the suggestion of her husband, according to a relative.
Both died Monday when the EF5 tornado destroyed the building as the two tried to ride out the storm in the store's walk-in freezer.
Futrell was a doting mother, active in the Little League association where another son played, her cousin, Amy Pulliam, told The Oklahoman.
"She was my sister I never had," Pulliam said. "It's hard, it's hard, it's hard. But there's nothing you can do now."
Futrell's husband, Cody, who told his wife to seek shelter inside the store, was overcome with grief, Pulliam said.
"As soon as the tornado went over he just took off running," she said. "When he made it as far as Little River Park he saw there was nothing" left of the store.
Antonia Candelaria, 9
Anonia loved to sing. She knew the words to most of the songs on the country radio station her family frequently had on and she would sing along, bringing joy to the house.
In an obituary, the family remembered the "gentle and loving spirit" of a girl with a sweet nickname, "ladybug," that complimented those of her two sisters, who are affectionately called "butterfly" and "dragonfly."
The third-grader recently auditioned to sing in a talent show scheduled for the last day of school at Plaza Towers Elementary. The girl died at the school with seven other children, including her best friend and next door neighbor, Emily Conatzer, 9.
"Tonie always danced, not walked, to the beat of her own drum," the family wrote in her obit. "And she banged her drum very well. She would bang that drum so loud that others could not help but to start dancing to her beat as well."
Shannon Quick, 40
Quick spent a lot of time watching her sons' baseball games. She loved cooking and was known for putting together a tasty Crock-Pot dinner for her family.
On Monday, she had picked up her 8-year-old Jackson and 13-year-old son Tanner from school early because the family was getting ready to go on a vacation to Virginia.
But an approaching tornado forced her to huddle in the closet of their home near Briarwood Elementary School with her children, mother and their dog, Luke. Quick was killed, and the dog had to be put to sleep because of the injuries.
Jackson was hospitalized with severe leg and pelvic injuries. Tanner escaped the tornado with scrapes and bruises. Her mother, Joy Waldroop, was taken to a hospital with a broken heel and a hole in her right arm.
"I couldn't ask for a better daughter," Waldroop, 61, told The Oklahoman newspaper, from the hospital. "She cared for her family."
Shannon Quick had been married to Mike Quick since 1995.