The Norman Transcript

June 5, 2013

Volunteers work to rescue photos scattered by the tornadoes

By Arianna Pickard
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Thousands of photos scattered by recent tornados in central Oklahoma have been recovered and will eventually be scanned into an online database for owners to view and claim.

During the May 19 and 20 tornados in central Oklahoma, pictures were picked up from people’s homes and thrown all over the state, taking memories of life before the twister’s devastation with them.

About 30 volunteers were sent out from the Fort Thunder Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop in Moore on Tuesday to collect some of these photos stuck in the rubble in nearby areas.

“You just have to dig,” said Mackenzie Unale, a volunteer whose team brought back about 20 photos.

Tuesday’s project, organized by a group called Picture Patrol, was focused on getting the photos out of the devastated areas and taking them to Oklahoma School of Photography in Moore, said Angela Madory, Oklahoma public relations coordinator for National Disaster Photo Rescue. At the school they will be cleaned, restored and scanned into an online database.

Thousands of photos have already been sent to the photography school, but it will take time to organize and restore them before people can claim them, Madory said.

“We will have reunification dates where they can come and look at them, but that’s phase two or three,” she said. “We’ve got to get them off the ground first — that’s why it’s so urgent for us to do this now.”

At the photography school the photos are cleaned with used dryer sheets, Madory said.

“Cleaning them you have to be really careful, you have to be really gentle, you don’t want to cause anymore damage,” said Unale, who graduated from the photography school and is helping with the cleaning process. “It’s something that’s hard for us doing it, because we want to save as many of them as we can.”

Unale said she expects the restoring process to take about two years.

“We’re not talking just a couple thousand, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of photos, and it’s just a process for them to all get scanned and into a database online,” Madory said. “But there will be a place and it will happen.”

Madory was one of the three or four people who began putting together a plan to collect and restore the lost photos.

The group teamed with the National Disaster Photo Rescue, an operation based in Carthage, Mo., that helped recover tens of thousands of photos lost in the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011, she said. Walgreens pharmacy and Arvest bank also are involved in the project and now official photo drop-off sites.

Thinking about what she would do if she lost all her photos inspired Madory to help start the project.

“A lot of these photographs ... there’s no digital copy that they can reprint,” she said. “As a mom, I know that those are really precious to me, those photos.”

These photos hold the memories of people’s lives before they were affected or perhaps devastated by the tornados.

“To give them those memories back and try to move past all that — it’s really important,” Madory said.

After losing so many personal possessions, something as simple as a picture may spark memories to help people remember who they are and where they came from, Unale said.

“It’s hope,” she said. “You may have lost everything, but you can have one thing back, and it’s a happy memory, hopefully.”

Madory said the group needs as many volunteers as possible to help pick up and clean the photos. Those interested can find volunteer opportunities at nationaldisasterphotorescue.net and Facebook.com/OklahomaPhotoRescue.