NORMAN — Though debris from the May tornadoes have long been swept away, many Moore residents are still left picking up the pieces.
Maylene Sorrels, a Plaza Towers Elementary teacher’s aide who was inside the Moore school when it was destroyed by the EF-5 tornado May 20, said the journey to recovery is one she’s still traveling.
“Six months later — just because everybody is gone — we’re still healing,” she said.
The single mother of 10 children, ranging in ages from 12 to 20, said the family lost their home and most of their belongings from the tornado. The family lived in a hotel for about a month after the storm and are now living in a rental home in Moore while they wait for insurance to process before they rebuild their home.
Since May, the family has set about returning to a routine. Sorrels has returned to work at the temporary elementary school set up on the Central Junior High School campus, and her children are back in school, too. Though their list of needs — both physically and emotionally — are extensive, Sorrels said they are taking things day by day.
“Things are going OK, but they’re not great. It’s not back to normal, and I don’t think it will ever be,” she said. “I think it’s the new normal, or what we consider normal.”
Being back at Plaza Towers has been bittersweet, Sorrels said. While she is grateful for the love and support of fellow staff members, Sorrels said the staff and students still miss the children who lost their lives during the tornado.
“I don’t think that’s ever not going to hurt in some way,” she said. “The sharpness may go away, but the pain — I don’t think that will ever stop. I honestly don’t.”
For Moore resident Jenny Potter, the tornado destroyed much of her neighborhood but left her own home standing.
Potter was out of town with her husband and two sons when the tornado struck. Upon returning to Oklahoma, Potter and her family were displaced from their home for a week.
Though her family was fortunate to have their home, Potter said it has been easy for her to identify with those who lost more.
“I don’t think it can get that close to you and not feel like it’s taken something from you,” she said, referring to the damaged homes and park in her neighborhood.
In the months after the tornado, Potter said she felt extremely sad, had nightmares about the tornado and felt the need to talk about it frequently. Potter said shortly after the tornado, her then 3-year-old son, Silas, had several changes in behavior, including being more temperamental and clingy.
“He still talks about the tornado every day, which is amazing because we weren’t even here,” she said.
Potter said the range of needs for Moore residents affected by the storms varies greatly, but a need for continued help and healing for all still is present.
“There’s still so much help that’s needed that hasn’t been given,” Sorrels said. “I’m not one to hold my hand out and say, ‘Give, give, give,’ because I work hard for what I have and I want to teach my children that, but there is still so many that need so many things. All the news crews are gone and we’re still here trying to put the pieces back together.”
Karla Bradshaw, United Way of Central Oklahoma senior director of marketing and communications, said United Way is accepting donations for the United Way May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
To date, the nonprofit organization has received $15.6 million in pledges and donations to the fund and has dispersed approximately $6 million toward the relief effort, according to the United Way of Central Oklahoma website.
“The help is still there. They can call multiple times,” Bradshaw said of tornado survivors. “They can get a case manager. It’s not like a one-time (thing), you can call once and that’s it. You can call again. Continue to reach out.”
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