MOORE, Okla. - Students from a suburban Oklahoma City elementary school destroyed by this week's tornado reunited with their teachers Thursday and collected whatever could be salvaged from the ruins.
Some children carried thank-you cards. A first grader was eager to see her favorite gym teacher and get a chance to say goodbye for the school year.
It was one of many difficult goodbyes for the city of Moore. Family and friends attended the Oklahoma City funeral of Antonia Candelaria, 9, who was one of seven children who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. It was the first service since Monday's storm, which killed 24 people.
Students who survived the storm's onslaught at the school and those whose parents had pulled them out of class just before it hit gathered with their teachers at a school that wasn't damaged.
Authorities kept journalists at a distance, but Cheryle Dixon, a grandmother of first grader Crisily Dixon, 7, talked to a reporter about how hard it was for the little girl.
"A lot of tears, a lot of worry about her gym teacher, a lot of worry about a lot of the teachers that she knew, so she just can't believe it," Dixon said.
Crisily's father had picked her up an hour before the tornado struck when he learned the severity of the approaching storm - a top-of-the-scale EF5 that was on the ground for 40 minutes, according to the National Severe Storm Lab in Norman.
The police and the mayor's office in Oklahoma City estimate that 12,000 homes were damaged and destroyed by the storm in Moore south of the city.
After the disaster, when Crisily saw pictures on the news of a car in the hallway that leads to her classroom, "her little face, she just turned pale," Dixon said.
Moore School Superintendent Susan Pierce said Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary Schools will be rebuilt. Briarwood was heavily damaged but no one was killed there.
"And we will reopen and we will have school in August," she said.
Also headed to Thursday's reunion of classmates and students was Carly Ramirez, who held her 4-year-old daughter, Kamrin, in her arms. The little girl shyly buried her face in her mother's neck, tightly holding two thank-you cards she planned to give her teachers. In each envelope were two notes: One from Kamrin and one from her mother.
Kamrin had already left her morning preschool class at Plaza Towers when the tornado hit. She rode out the storm in a shelter at her grandfather's home.
The main reason they came, though, Ramirez said, was so Kamrin could see that all her teachers had emerged from the school alive.
Gov. Mary Fallin said that as the removal of mountains of debris begins "we are also in a stage of healing."
A public memorial service would be held Sunday night at a church, she said.