The Norman Transcript

June 6, 2013

Shelters give tornado victims a sense of peace and normalcy

By Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — For folks whose lives have been disrupted by chaos, a little bit of normalcy can go a long way.

Since May 19, thousands of Oklahomans have been displaced by tornadoes and, more recently, flash flooding. Numerous organizations and agencies have been assisting victims with needs including locating loved ones, government aid, medical care and daily living needs.

As of Wednesday, the Red Cross had four shelters open, including the Moore Community Center, 301 S. Howard.

At 7:50 p.m. Friday, when the Oklahoma City area was besieged by tornadoes and flash flooding, a tornado formed near NW Fifth St. in Moore and tracked p.5 miles to West Main Street, according to the National Weather Service. Its maximum width is estimated at 500 yards; its maximum EF rating was EF-0 (65-85 mph winds).

About 25 victims staying in the American Red Cross shelter at the Moore Community Center had to take cover — again, said Red Cross volunteer Charlotte Murrow Taylor. Wednesday morning, crews were beginning to repair the ceiling damage at the community center.

Taylor, from South Carolina, said victims who come to the shelter are literally picking up the pieces of their lives. Some have been looking for photographs. Many have lost their homes and lost everything. Some have lost loved ones.

“We attempt to provide a safe place for them to stay,” Taylor said.

Red Cross disaster relief focuses on immediate disaster-caused needs so families can get back on their feet and resume their lives as quickly as possible, Red Cross spokesman Ken Garcia said.

Volunteer Les Orser said victims receive safe shelter, hot meals, essential relief supplies, emotional support and health services including first aid.

Orser said the Red Cross delivers different meals every day. Breakfast is served from 7 to 10 a.m., lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. to accommodate individuals with various schedules.

On Wednesday morning, Joey and Kelly Thomas, of Little Rock, Ark., were in the kitchen preparing lunch. They said they came to Moore because they felt a need to help out. Taylor said folks have come from many places across the country to help.

A representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was there assisting victims at a table set up near the main entrance. Stacks of water bottles stood just outside; more were stacked along one of the halls. The buffet-style food line extended out from the kitchen. Nearby were Betsy Richard and her certified therapy dog “Sasha,” a 5-year-old Australian shepherd.

In other rooms were temporary sleeping spots until the roof damage was repaired, a large room filled with various relief supplies, a medical area where people could receive basic first aid care and an area for children to stay while their parents dealt with other matters.

Orser said folks were coming in for tetanus shots; another common occurrence was individuals suffering from dehydration. Orser encouraged citizens to be sure they are properly hydrated.

“We’re doing triage here,” Orser said.

Taylor said she thinks the people of Oklahoma have been remarkably courageous. Despite their hardships, despite their despair, many victims have done something or said something to encourage her.

“My hope is that when they leave, they’ll know that there’s help and they’ll feel that there’s hope,” Taylor said.

Garcia said community partners have been a big part of the story. They include Cox Communications, which supplied a couple of large, flatscreen TVs set up in a lounge area at the shelter. AT&T supplied a secured cell phone charger kiosk inside and a U-verse TV watching area in the parking lot.

At one time or another, the American Red Cross has had 12 shelters open, logged 4,226 overnight stays, served 108,096 meals and 178,958 snacks and logged 8,229 health services consultations and 5,417 mental health consultations. More than 1,100 Red Cross workers have served victims.

The University of Oklahoma served as a shelter in the days following the May 20 storm. The last storm victim moved out this week.

Residents needing assistance following the May 19, 20 and 31 tornadoes can visit one of the Multi-Agency Resource Centers open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.:

· Little Axe: Little Axe School, 2000 168th NE, Norman;

· Moore: Westmoore High School, 12613 S Western, Moore.