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Habitat affiliates assisting in storm aftermath

MOORE, Okla. (May 20, 2013) Destroyed buildings and overturned cars are seen after an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, near Oklahoma City, May 20, 2013.  With winds of up to 200 miles per hour (320 kph), it is estimated the tornado damaged or destroyed more than 13,000 homes.  Photo by © Gene Blevins/LA Dailynews/ZumaPress)
MOORE, Okla. (May 21, 2013) Residents walk through wreckage after a tornado in Moore, Okla. Twenty-four people were killed and 237 others injured when a massive tornado blasted the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City on May. 20, 2013. (Photo by © Song Qiong/Xinhua Press/Corbis)

(May 21, 2013) – Habitat for Humanity affiliates in the tornado-ravaged Oklahoma City area joined in initial response efforts Tuesday and already were looking ahead to what housing needs they might meet after the rubble is cleared.

From initial reports, current Habitat homeowners seem to have come through Monday’s storms unscathed.

No Habitat homeowners in the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity affiliate area were affected, said Ann Felton, executive director. And, at mid-day, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland County staff members had yet to hear of any damage to Habitat homes there.

But Linda Banta, interim executive director, said that because of downed cell towers and communication systems, they hadn’t reached many homeowners.

“We think we’ve talked to one or two in just about every part of town, though, and think we have a decent assessment that most, if not all, of our homes are OK,” she said.

One affiliate staff member, though, wasn’t so fortunate.

Virgil Rifenbark, who drives a truck that collects donations for the ReStore, lost his home, Banta said.

“He and his family rode it out in the bathroom, but they are OK,” she said. “The house is now just sticks.”

Banta said that Rifenbark’s home was paid off and that he did have insurance. One of his granddaughters is a student at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, where children died and some are still unaccounted for. She was uninjured, Banta said.

Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland County has a trailer set up outside of Lowe’s to collect donated water, food and diapers for storm victims.

Meanwhile, a crew from Central Oklahoma Habitat was at the scene of the damage Tuesday afternoon with a Bobcat, helping rescue workers dig thought the wreckage. Heavy rain and lightning were hampering the search and rescue efforts, but there were no storm or tornado warnings in the area.

Felton said the affiliate helped about 60 families rebuild their homes after a 1999 tornado in Oklahoma City and hopes to help more after the 2013 twister.

“It’s just devastating to see what’s happened,” Felton said Tuesday.