(Adds details from report, other rating agencies)
May 23 (Reuters) - The powerful tornado that struck a suburb of Oklahoma City earlier this week could affect the long-term credit quality of the school district and hospital in its path, Moody's Investors Service said on Thursday.
The credit rating agency said it is evaluating the ability of bond issuers in the state to manage the recovery and costs related to the tornado damage, estimated at more than $2 billion.
It is also looking into whether the tornado, which devastated the Oklahoma town of Moore, could create challenges for issuers in making timely debt service payments.
'As we receive more information we will have a better gauge on the revenue impact resulting from facilities closures, potential delays in tax collection, and the costs of repairing buildings and equipment,' it said.
Twenty-four people were killed, 10 of them children, when a tornado packing winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kmh) ripped through Moore on Monday afternoon, destroying two schools and a hospital. Scores of homes were flattened, and more than 200 hundred people were injured.
The Moore Cleveland County Independent School District, where the two elementary schools were destroyed, expects to make its $7.3 million debt payment scheduled for June 1, Moody's said. It noted the district had a general fund balance of $12.2 million at the end of last fiscal year, but that the expected cost of the damage is still unknown.
The Norman Regional Medical Center, a 45-bed hospital, was also leveled, and the recovery costs also have not been determined. Still, Moody's said it will likely make a Sept. 1 debt payment of $9.2 million, and the hospital has maintained monthly deposits with the bond trustee for both principal and interest for almost all of its bonds.
President Barack Obama has declared the tornado area a disaster zone, which will allow the federal government to reimburse spending on disaster recovery and should relieve some of the budget pressures created by the storm.
Also, the state's budget is very strong. Oklahoma recovered from the 2007-09 recession quickly, and now has a $577 million rainy day fund, Moody's said.
Already on Thursday, the Oklahoma state legislature sent a measure directing $45 million toward disaster relief to Governor Mary Fallin to sign into law, according to the state's House of Representatives Speaker's office.
Moody's said Oklahoma City suffered 'minimal damage that is not expected to have a material impact on the city's finances.' It also does not expect the storm to affect the ratings of the state's housing agencies, utilities, or airport.
Storm damage is 'expected to have minimal impact on revenues' for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, as well.
Fitch Ratings, another credit agency, told Reuters on Wednesday that 'the state is well prepared for these challenges, and we expect no rating change at this time.'
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Caryn Trokie in New York; editing by James Dalgleish and Diane Craft) Keywords: USA TORNADOES/RATINGS
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