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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 01:51 GMT 02:51 UK

World: Americas

Tornado survivors return home

Twister damage: Little can be salvaged

People in Oklahoma and Kansas have been returning to their homes to see the devastation caused by a series of tornadoes.

Tom Carver in Oklahoma City: A prosperous suburb has been turned into a battle zone
Many wept as they walked along streets where nothing remained except the rubble of their homes.

A curfew imposed by the National Guard to prevent looting has now been lifted in most areas.

Nearly 5,000 homes were destroyed by the winds.

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said: "We have got to get the debris removed, we have got a lot of things to do."

[ image: Contemplating the future: Sitting on the past]
Contemplating the future: Sitting on the past
Meteorologists estimate that as many as 76 tornadoes whipped through Oklahoma and Kansas. At least 43 people are reported to have been killed and hundreds were injured.

Officials say they have found no more bodies in the debris but it is still possible that the death toll will rise.

The twisters left a trail of destruction through Kansas and Oklahoma - a region known as Tornado Alley - that is considered to be one of the worst on record.

President Bill Clinton declared 11 Oklahoma counties disaster zones.

In the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City, 1,500 homes were levelled by a single tornado that cut a 19-mile (30 km) long, half-mile-wide swathe through the city.

[ image:  ]
Shelters were made available throughout the area for short-term housing, while officials made long-term arrangements for the suddenly homeless.

Government funds will be made available to help people rent homes for up to 18 months.

The American Red Cross also passed out vouchers for people to stay in motels until other provisions could be made. Churches distributed food and clothes.

Restoring power

Work has also begun on restoring gas and electricity supplies.

"We are entering into the second phase of the disaster recovery process," said David Van Nostrand, director of the Oklahoma County Emergency Management Office. "We are beginning to look now at taking care of the debris."

Insurance companies say they are expecting around $200m in initial claims, but the final bill is likely to be much higher and could even hit $1bn.

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Internet Links

Tornado Project Online

Twisters: Destruction from the Sky

Storm Prediction Centre

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Oklahoma State Government

Kansas State Government

National Severe Storms Laboratory

Federal Emergency Management Agency

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