One year ago today, a devastating EF5 tornado ripped through the central Oklahoma city of Moore. The tornado reached 1.3 miles wide, packing winds of 210 mph; it killed 24 people and injured over 350 others. A few days later, my employer asked for volunteers to man a Mobile Battery Center to help those affected by the storm. Less than a day later, I found myself standing next to shattered homes and the remnants of Plaza Towers Elementary School, right in the middle of the tornado’s path. It was humbling, to say the least.
It was insane how clear the path of the tornado was. One street of homes looked perfectly fine, and then suddenly everything was broken. I helped out at our booth for a while before being taken a few blocks west to Eagle Drive. There, I wandered the streets of the neighborhood with a backpack full of car chargers, handing them to anybody that needed them. It might seem like an odd thing, but when the only power you have comes from your vehicle it can be a lifeline. Friends and family were all these folks had left. There were throngs of people in the streets, both people starting their recovery process and volunteers from all over. There were dozens of tents with food, water, and other supplies. People formed human chains to help load debris into trucks. It was hard to believe these streets were ever normal; it was absolutely unreal. I saw a van load of people from Joplin, Missouri and knew they understood the experience all too well.
On Saturday, I passed through Moore on my way home and decided to visit that neighborhood again to reflect and witness their progress. As I approached, many of the trees were still barren…not much more than giant sticks in the ground. Businesses and homes were rebuilt on the main road, and when I turned on to Eagle Drive most of the first homes were healed. But, as before, it was about a block in before the true impact of that event was felt. There were many new homes; in fact, more than I expected. Some were finished, some weren’t much more than concrete pads, but most were somewhere in between. Intermixed with this new growth was evidence of what had happened: broken earth, twisted trees, and Plaza Towers Elementary. The National Guard had been replaced with construction crews, but the fence was still there and the grounds still wore the scars of the storm.
Throughout the neighborhood, people were moving on. Kids played in the streets and barbeque grills filled the air with the smell of charred meat. The same place that had driven me to tears a year ago now brought a small smile to my lips. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the neighborhood was just going through a growth spurt. People waved as I drove by, their fear and uncertainty replaced by the friendly charm I’m accustomed to in my home state.
From terror and devastation rose the American spirit and the perseverance of the heartland. I will never forget how I felt that day a year ago, but now that feeling is tempered with greater understanding. The people of Moore said they would rebuild, and they did. They still do.
(I wrote about my experiences last year here: Moore.)