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The Moore tornado, four days later

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
May 24, 2013

Since Monday at 2:56 PM, Moore, Newcastle and southwest Oklahoma City have been unrecognizable. That’s when the tornado first formed in west Newcastle. By the time it had moved through Moore, and ended near Stanley Draper Lake, it had changed thousands of lives. 24 were dead, hundreds injured, and thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged. Since then, the Oklahoma community has rallied in support of those affected. It could be bottled water. Or tarps to cover roofs. Or a hot meal. Whatever the helping hand looked like, it was offered.

NPR and KOSU worked together to cover the tornado and its aftermath all week. Here’s a summary of all our work.

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Let’s start with a map of the destruction, where you can zoom in and out, and get the best sense of how wide of a swath of land it affected. And from space, the power is even more evident. The situation was so bad, forecasters employed the rarely used “tornado emergency”. It ran through two elementary schools, Plaza Towers and Brookside. Everyone survived at Briarwood, but 7 children died at Plaza Towers. In the immediate aftermath, one thing was clear: this tornado tore neighborhoods apart. KGOU’s Kurt Gwartney walked through the scene, finding rubble and debris at every step. Casey Mongold, owner of Casey’s Tire and Auto in Moore shared his experience with “All Things Considered.” The tornado wiped out much of the Moore Medical Center. Thankfully, everyone escaped.

The day after, some were allowed back to view the damage to this house and try to preserve what they could. KOSU’s Rachel Hubbard went along with one as she returned.

Moore, Oklahoma is the home to Representative Tom Cole, who worked as a groundskeeper at both elementary schools. He joined Steve Inskeep on “Morning Edition” to bring context to the pictures we were all seeing.

In the immediate chaos after the storm, conflicting reports ricocheted from official to official to the media. And still a day later, confusion reigned. Because of the wide scope of destruction and lack of reliable communication, double counting of bodies happened, and people thought to be missing were located. NPR’s David Schaper captured the confusion in this piece.

Beyond the confusion were the people themselves. Left with little to nothing, they had to go on. Some had seen people die from the tornado, others were left with the memories of the sounds of the storm. As Jamie Martinez told NPR’s Wade Goodwyn, “You don’t expect it to happen. You just take it for granted. And let me tell you, you shouldn’t take it for granted.”

Two days after the tornadoes, teachers and staff from the schools gathered to re-group. Speaking to the crowd, Moore Public Schools Superintendent Susan Piece said, “People who think there’s no prayer in public schools weren’t around Monday afternoon.” Read more from NPR’s Alan Greenblatt.

KOSU’s Rachel Hubbard found a family who had not only been through both the May 3rd 1999 tornado and this Monday’s, but had their house destroyed in both. Still, Rena and Paul Phillips say their staying in Moore.

Shortly after the storm, Moore Public Schools made the decision to end their school year early. But not before teachers and students were reunited.

People are getting help, but what about animals? Volunteers and veterinarians have tried to save as many horses as possible, and I visited an equine center where they’re bandaging and getting them back to 100%.

Oklahomans love their pets too, and especially on days like Monday, as NPR’s Alan Greenblatt discovered.

The National Weather Service deemed the tornado an F-5, the most powerful rating available (explanation of ratings here). And with it aimed for such a populated area, with less than 15 minutes notice, how did so many survive? First, forecasters had a chance to warn those in the path. Then, Hansi Lo Wang provides more answers to that question.

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The tornado raised substantive questions too. Storm shelters seemed to be the focus, as both elementary schools lacked any type of dedicated safe or reinforced rooms. I looked at other schools, and what kind of preparations they have, while NPR’s Wade Goodwyn found another debate among homeowners. 

Many heard the warning that the only way to survive Monday’s tornado was underground. But basements are far from commonplace in Oklahoma, you don’t need me to tell you that, and there’s reasons behind the choice. Meanwhile, a civil engineer and professor at the University of Alabama is examining if a house could ever be “tornado-proof“.

President Obama almost immediately declared the area a federal disaster, freeing up resources like low-cost loans and cost-sharing for the cleanup. A more comprehensive aid package is expected soon, and that could put some of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation in a bind.

Despite the President’s move, there’s concern that FEMA’s money may run out before too long.

Tornado Alley was already a familiar term. But coping with the threat of a sudden severe storm isn’t commonplace in many other areas of the country. KOSU’s Michael Cross went through the 1999 outbreak, and joined “Talk of the Nation” to explain what it’s all like.

This week was the 2 year anniversary of the Joplin tornado that killed 158. “Tell Me More” asked residents of that city to share advice with Oklahomans.

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So what’s next? A lot of “praying to a god of rebuilding”. And insurance companies have already started to pay out money, according to StateImpact Oklahoma. Plus, a good resource if you’re looking to help is this  list of organizations on the ground.

Unfortunately, a blueprint has developed in Oklahoma because these tragedies have happened before. But nothing goes according to plan. So every step of the way, KOSU and NPR will be tracking it, and we hope you’ll be with us too.

One Response to “The Moore tornado, four days later”

  1. Emily says:

    I believe you have the wrong name for one of the destroyed schools: it's Briarwood, not Brookside.

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