Moore Residents Slowly Allowed Into Tornado-Damaged Areas

May 21, 2013
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We turn now to the story of one survivor as she returned to her home for the first time since the storm. Here's Rachel Hubbard of member station KOSU.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Casey Warren(ph) left home for her job as a medical assistant yesterday morning wearing her scrubs. This morning, she was still wearing those same clothes as she waited with her grandmother to get back into her neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If you'll pull up, we'll have somebody escort you in just a few minutes, OK?

CASEY WARREN: Thank you so much.

HUBBARD: She lives near Plaza Towers Elementary, the school destroyed by the tornado. Residents like Casey lined the block, waiting to be approved and escorted into the neighborhood, not knowing what they would find.

WARREN: Anxious. I don't know what I'm going to walk into, don't know what's left. Scared right now, nervous.

HUBBARD: Casey's two-year-old son suffers from allergies, and she's desperate to get in to get his medication. The process isn't easy. Mark Myers is with the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department.

MARK MYERS: A driver's license will work. You know, if they happen to have a utility bill, they'll be allowed to go in, get whatever items that they need, secure their house as well. There is going to be a curfew for getting folks out of there sometime when it starts getting dark tonight.

HUBBARD: An officer crowds into the back of Casey's small white Chevy next to her little boy's car seat. At first, other than insulation debris and broken sticks, nothing really seems out of the ordinary. Then we make a left-hand turn, and then a right. With every turn, it gets worse: first, houses missing windows, then houses missing second stories.

We keep driving. Nothing is even recognizable. It looks more like a muddy garbage dump than a neighborhood. Casey pauses, confused about where her house even is. And then the officer asks the question so many hear the most.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you sure your house is still here?

WARREN: My dad somehow was able to get in last night, and it's still standing. It's just full of debris. All of my windows are busted out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the school on your right if it helps you any.


HUBBARD: As Casey drives along, you can see mattresses the tornado shredded down to the springs, stuffed animals stuck in the mud and massive debris piles. Then Casey sees her trailer home. Amazingly, it's still standing. The blinds flail in the blowing rain, and two men try to nail a tarp to the roof to prevent more damage from an approaching thunderstorm.

After about 15 minutes, she emerges wearing a clean pink T-shirt and jeans. She's clutching the bag full of medicine. It looks like the first time she's breathed in 24 hours, but there's still a long way to go.

WARREN: It's just crazy how it hit because, you know, some things are totally unaffected. My bedroom was untouched, but my son's room, the kitchen, dining room, living room, it's all just trashed, stuff everywhere. It just - it's crazy.

HUBBARD: As I left Casey, she had gotten special permission from the escorting officer to drive back to her house as long as she agreed to remain inside and not stay too long. Other homeowners in this neighborhood were just standing outside the rubble of what used to be their homes. They look bewildered. Like Casey, they're trying to figure out what to do next. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.