NORMAN — Some Moore residents who lost their homes in the May 20 tornado reclaimed pieces of their family history Saturday when they were reunited with photos ripped away by the storm.
“It’s been very emotional for the people to see photos they thought they’d never see again,” said Angela Madory, public relations coordinator for Oklahoma Photo Rescue.
A woman sat at a table surrounded by her family after discovering photos of her husband who had passed away. When an Oklahoma Photo Rescue volunteer handed her an envelope with the pictures, she got up and gave the other woman a long hug. An irreplaceable memory reclaimed.
Just across the room, another woman battled her tears as she pointed out a picture of a baby in a battered frame. It was hers. The tears started flowing freely when she found another picture of a toddler. Volunteers handed her tissues as they explained how to claim the photographs. But now the woman was on a mission and kept perusing the rows of photos that were laid out in the community room at the Suburban Baptist Church in Moore.
Taryn Walker was studying the line up of photos in search of familiar faces.
“My father’s house, I had moved out by then but, the house I grew up in was destroyed,” she said.
“We actually found a lot in the rubble. But this morning I got a call from a friend who said they saw one of us in a picture. Now I am looking for memories I can’t even think of right now,” Walker added.
Aiming to rescue photographs that people lost in the tornado, the all-volunteer-based non-profit organization, Oklahoma Photo Rescue, has put in more than 3,600 volunteer hours since the storm, Madory said.
Volunteers started the project just days after the storm as they combed through debris and collected pictures.
Over time, people mailed in more photos.
“Some were sent to us from Missouri and Arkansas,” Madory said. “We have several thousand photos collected. There are boxes and boxes and boxes,” she said.
Then the cleaning process began. Pictures were dried and cleaned as good as possible. They were catalogued, photographed and uploaded to a website for people to look for the pictures online.
On Saturday, the group had thousands of pictures ready to view: photos of newborns, wedding pictures, vacation snapshots, Glamour Shots and party pics. There was a service photo of a World War II veteran and an oversized portrait of a grandmother with an infant on her lap and a young girl by her side.
In an era where most people have their photo data living in cyberspace, it may be hard to imagine that paper copies of photos are so valuable, but many of the photos found were very old or clearly one-of-a-kind.
“These are pictures that may have never had a digital copy made,” Madory said.
While there were countless pictures displayed, the selection was only the tip of the iceberg.
“We have only one-third of the photos ready,” Madory explained.
As volunteers finish cleaning photos, more reunion events are planned.
Until then, more work is ahead and more volunteers are needed to clean the photos.
Those interested in helping clean the pictures can contact the Oklahoma School of Photography at 2306 North Moore Avenue in Moore, or call 405-799-1411.
“It’s very rewarding,” Madory said. “These are their memories they thought they would never see again.”
People whose homes or storage units were destroyed by the tornado are encouraged to attend future reunion events or search for photos on candid.com/tornado.
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