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Oklahoma's Gov. Fallin On Lifesaving, Recovery Efforts


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm David Greene. We now know the tornado that struck the city of Moore, Okla., on Monday was an EF5, with winds over 200 miles an hour. That designation is the strongest possible rating for a tornado. Federal, state and local teams are on the ground this morning, cleaning up debris and tending to survivors. But there is little - if any - chance of finding any more survivors; that, according to the fire chief in Moore.

There are also questions this morning about whether better preparations could have saved more lives. We're joined now on the line from Moore, Okla., by the governor of the state, Mary Fallin.

Governor, I know this is an incredibly busy time for you. Thanks for taking the time.

GOV. MARY FALLIN: Well, my pleasure. We appreciate you, and your concern for our state.

GREENE: Well, I wanted to ask you just for an update. As we understand it from local officials, the search for survivors is basically over. Is that your understanding?

FALLIN: Well, they have gone through the various areas of debris three times; and we've had search-and-rescue teams and search-and-rescue dogs; and then heat-monitoring equipment that has gone into the various areas where there has been damage. And we feel good that we have gone through it so many times, that we have hopefully been able to recover anyone that might have been lost or injured in a tornado.

GREENE: Well, I know you're in the city right now. Tell me what you're seeing, and what your impressions are.

FALLIN: Well, as I came in this morning from the interstate and drove into one of the areas, I saw that they had moved a lot of the debris alongside heap piles on the side of the street, which is a good sign that we're making, already, progress in cleaning up the public areas where there has been a debris field. And I'm seeing that there are recovery service semi-trucks. Other constructions trucks are now on the site, and once again, the debris has been moved aside so we can begin the process of cleaning this up.

GREENE: And, governor, I know a lot of people in that city who live there, obviously, are homeless right now, you know, trying to find makeshift shelters. I mean, what do people need most in the city at this point?

FALLIN: Well, we do have about 131 people in one of our shelters that the rest of the people that lost their homes - and there were quite a few homes lost. We don't have an accurate count yet. In the meantime, people are needing help with replacing their clothes, their furniture, personal items. So donating to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. We've also set up a long-term fund for the families that have lost so much called OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund. And that is going to be handled through the United Way of Oklahoma. And so if anyone wants to help with the long-term needs of the community itself, that would be a great place to give to.

GREENE: That's one place that they could turn. Can I ask you, governor, one of the stunning images that we have all seen is, you know, that children died in this tornado. And we heard the voice of a mother from one of the students at Plaza Towers, one of the schools, that she was on our air this morning. And she said every school should absolutely have to be required to have a safe room in storms like this. Is that something that you'll be addressing as we go forward, here?

FALLIN: We are going to be talking about that. In fact, we've been talking about it during this terrible tragedy. But I will say that many of the schools that are being built by the local communities and their school boards and their citizens vote on bond issues to build schools, but many of the schools that are newly built in Oklahoma do have some type of storm room or storm shelter for their areas. And every school in Oklahoma is required to have an evacuation plan and a disaster plan if something like a tornado or grassfire or something should happen, of a place that they are to do and to get into a safe area.

In this case, the two schools - or two of the schools that received substantial damage were older schools that didn't have a specific storm shelter room, but they did have a plan of action. And the teachers that were able to help get the children that did survive the tornado to certain particular areas of the school are, really, heroes.

GREENE: Governor Fallin, we are all thinking about the people of your state and that community, and we just really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us this morning.

FALLIN: Thank you.

GREENE: Mary Fallin is the governor of Oklahoma, and she joined us from Moore, Oklahoma, that community that is recovering from a disastrous tornado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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