The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

May 25, 2013

Disaster central

WASHINGTON — Many states get hit frequently with tornadoes and other natural catastrophes, but Oklahoma is Disaster Central.

The twister that devastated Moore was the 74th presidential disaster declared in the Sooner state in the past 60 years. Only much-larger and more-populous California and Texas have had more.

The state is No. 1 in tornado disasters and No. 3 for flooding, according to a database of presidential disaster declarations handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And those figures don’t include drought, which is handled by a different agency.

The explanation is partly atmospheric conditions that trigger twisters and flooding, partly where people live and how they build their homes, and partly politics and bureaucratic skill, according to disaster experts. Even one of the state’s U.S. senators said recently that because of the way federal guidelines are written, Oklahoma is getting disaster aid more often than it needs.

Of the 25 U.S. counties that have been declared disasters the most times since 1953, nine are in Oklahoma, the highest total of any state.

Oklahoma County has been on the disaster list 38 times, more than the entire state of New Jersey. Caddo County, just west of the Oklahoma City metro area, has been named a federal disaster area nine times since 2007, with a litany of woe that includes twisters, floods, ice storms, a blizzard and violent winds.

“Things happen around here,” Tulsa, Okla.-based disaster consultant Ann Patton said. “Of course, sometimes it can make you stronger.”

When disaster declarations are measured on a per-person basis, Oklahoma gets nearly three times the national average. When they are computed based on how much land is in a state, it gets twice the national average, according to an analysis of FEMA records.

The atmospheric explanation is pretty basic: “Oklahoma really is the bull’s-eye for awful tornadoes,” said Mike Lindell, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University.

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