Moore Tornado: What Victims Need Most Is “Prayer”
How can the same community suffer so much, so many times? That’s what so many people are asking. I just got back from spending a few days in Moore, Oklahoma. This week it was hit by an EF-5 tornado. That means the storm that roared through here was packing winds greater than 200 miles per hour!
I walk through neighborhoods once bustling with kids playing ball in their front yard, or dads mowing the lawn. I step over ripped out stop signs and carefully walk around twisted steel that used to be cars. The games and routine chores along this street, and hundreds more, are replaced with disbelief and grieving.
I see a woman just sitting in the rubble that used to be her home. She’s sifting through photos she’s salvaged. Memories of better times that the twister can’t take from her. She looks up at me and angrily waves me away. I let her grieve in private.
Just down the street there’s some commotion. A man is holding a cat. Turns out his name is Ben. Her name is Miss Priss. And they were just reunited. Ben has been looking for Miss Priss for two days under the destruction. She must have found a pocket of safety, and decided to emerge at that moment.
I learn Miss Priss’ story of survival isn’t the only one in Ben’s family. While he was at work when the twister hit, his wife was at home. She survived by jumping into their underground shelter just as it blew apart their home. And his daughter is a second grader at Plaza Towers elementary, where seven children were killed. She survived by huddling in a hallway with her teacher and classmates. Ben told me he still has everything that really matters to him.
By now you know that Moore was devastated by an EF-5 twister in 1999 and then an EF-4 in 2003. Now death and destruction has paid a return visit. How can that be? That’s what I heard so many times during my time in Moore. What amazes me as I look at the destruction of the Moore hospital, and the miles and miles of decimated neighborhoods, is the casualty count. How could a mile and a half wide twister that tore through a 17 mile path of devastation only kill 24 people? I don’t think I was the only one expecting the death toll to reach into the hundreds.
This week’s Moore disaster comes almost two years to the day of the twister that tore through Joplin, Missouri. It too destroyed the city’s hospital and leveled neighborhoods as far as the eye could see. Like Moore, I was in Joplin a few hours after it was hit. (See links to Joplin stories below) I’ll never forget the piles and piles of cars and trucks that had been tossed about like one of the footballs my boys toss around. Or the semi truck that was wrapped around a tree. Or the shocked look on victim’s faces. Some just sitting on the curb in front of what used to be their home. Others not knowing where to begin the massive clean-up, so they spend hours sweeping the dirt on their driveway into a dust pan.
The stories in Moore are eerily similar. One woman showed me a McDonald’s sign that blew into her front yard. A man told me after the 1999 tornado he started selling storm shelters, but hadn’t got to putting one into his newly remodeled home yet. “My ex-wife has a great one though,” he said. Like so many others, he was sifting through his broken belongings. I see years of possessions reduced to what can be held in things like red Radio Flyer wagons, or on the trunks of cars.
I remember in Joplin describing the scene as resembling a war zone. I’ve never been to a war zone, but I’ve seen what they look like on TV or in the movies. It looks like a war zone in Moore too. I ran into some Marines doing search and rescue/recovery. They pulled two people out of the rubble the night before. Alive! One of them rattled off the many wars he’s fought in many far off countries. “I’ve been in war zones,” he told me. “This is far worse than anything I’ve ever seen. Horrible. Horrible.”
Tempers are hot. I saw one man who was turned away from getting into his destroyed neighborhood jump out of his car, point a finger right in a cop’s face, and shout out 30 seconds of profane frustration at him. I was impressed at the cop’s restraint. He stood there and took the abuse, knowing what the tornado victim had been through. There are cops, military troops and federal agents everywhere. You could say Moore is under martial law. Roads are blocked, neighborhoods off-limits. It can take an hour to go a mile, and then told you can’t be there.
Even news crews aren’t welcome everywhere. Go figure! And believe me there are news organizations here from all over the world covering this. I hear Japanese, German, Spanish, Italian, and more. All the major networks. CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s rented RV was right next to where we set up shop. Satellite trucks, with their dishes protruding from them, are everywhere. We’re all here for the big story. As our crew is finishing up in one neighborhood (that we didn’t know was blocked off), a cop pulls up next to our vehicle and threatens to arrest us if we don’t leave. Later in the day, while in another neighborhood, a security guard warns us that two members of the media had been arrested in this same spot.
When I left Moore I had the same feeling I had when leaving Joplin two years earlier. Guilt. I have a home to go home to. Those who live in 12 thousand homes in Moore don’t. 12,000! I asked Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb what the victims needed the most right now. His one word answer? “Prayer!” That’s something all of us can do for the tornado victims tonight.