By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As I watched the live news reports of the EF-5 tornado grinding a wide swath through Moore this past May 20, my thoughts immediately were on the expected fatalities. That powerful of tornado through an urban area would likely produce hundreds of deaths.
Indeed, the medical examiner at one time said they expected more than 90 fatalities from the storm. We knew schools were in the path and kids had yet to go home.
In the end, 24 persons, including seven schoolchildren, lost their lives on that fateful day. A day earlier, two persons died on the eastern edge of Cleveland County in an EF-4 tornado.
Moore knows tornadoes and residents understand the warnings. They’ve been through it all before. Some survivors had shelters, others got in their bathtubs with mattresses, pillows and pets. Others sought shelter as best they could inside their homes.
Several enduring images remain with me from the storm. While crossing the Fourth Street overpass two days later with Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester we were met with a crowd of young persons. There were so many of them that they were blocking the roadway.
These were teenagers, outfitted with gloves, brooms, rakes, shovels and trash bags. They went west over the overpass, headed to clean up areas of Moore. School was dismissed so if they had homes, it would have been a good day to sleep in.
These teenagers were the community’s future and have shown leadership and responsibility at an early age. They stepped up when their neighbors needed them. That bodes well for our future.
Across the city at Veterans Park, those military statues covered with debris picked up throughout the storm’s path were another reminder of the city’s resilience. Amidst the chaos, they stood as silent sentries protecting the park.
On both sides of the park were concrete slabs where homes once stood. Bustling developments full of young families that made use of the park. The park, on Bryant Avenue at 4th Street, was on my cycling route and there were usually kids playing there or adults using the walking trails.
It’s being rebuilt and businesses and individuals stepped up to make the park whole again. Those four sentries still stand at the park’s entrance, guarding all directions now. A third flag joins the American and Oklahoma flags. It says, simply, Moore Strong.
All around the damaged areas, portable toilets line the residential streets. That’s a sign of progress. Homes are being built at a pace not ever seen in this community. The vacant lots with driveways leading to nowhere and pipes protruding from concrete are the exception. A few blue tarps still cover roofs.
Congressman Tom Cole, who has seen much destruction in his hometown of Moore, said he was proud of President Obama’s response to the storm. In a Transcript editorial board meeting last month, Rep. Cole had high marks for the president and the federal response to the disaster.
The president’s word from his Memorial Day visit last year still resonate.
“When we say we got your back, we keep our word,” Mr. Obama said. “When we say we are going to be here until you are completely rebuilt, we mean it. We know Moore is going to come back stronger from this tragedy. We’re going to be with you every step of the way. It’s a strong community with strong character. It’s going to take a long time for the community to rebuild. We know Moore is going to come back strong from this tragedy.”
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