5 consecutive left turns usually indicate that you are going in circles, but the tense atmosphere in the car made me keep my opinion to myself. We had arrived at Moore, OK at 10:30 AM, and we had been searching for Lewis Jewelry Store--where the mayor worked--for 45 minutes. Locating the store was wearing down our patience, and nervousness dominated our thoughts. I, for one, was thinking of how to address the mayor, and I was worrying about what could potentially happen when we handed the mayor our $750.00 check. Would he be ecstatic to receive the donation, or would he be disappointed by the meager amount? $750.00 would not even be enough to replace 1/8 of the framework on a demolished house or buy new furniture for a living room. Colossal corporations exist that travel worldwide to donate millions of dollars toward natural disasters to improve lives! Dejectedly, I wondered, “What are we--only $750.00-- in the sea of destruction caused by Tornado Moore? How are we supposed to make a difference in improving the lives of the thousands of homeless residents of Moore?” With a jolt back to reality, we finally discovered that we had been driving in circles, and alas we arrived at the store. My qualms were pushed to the side. Ready or not, it was time to face the mayor.
As a group, we walked into the jewelry store with a $750.00 cheque and five extra shirts from our fundraising run. We were told the mayor would be right with us, and while waiting, my doubts reformulated.
As butterflies fluttered through my stomach, a round man in jeans and a work shirt walked out from behind the counter. He had crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes that showed that he smiled frequently, and he had a firm, but relaxed handshake when he assured us to sit down. Devika, our implied spokesperson, introduced us all and explained that we had come to Moore to donate our share to help rebuild the homes of Moore residents. We politely inquired about the reconstruction efforts, and we heard several things that we had not anticipated...
Due to thorough research beforehand, we were familiar with news, numbers, and figures. The tornado was of F5 intensity, 1 1/2 miles in width, and took the lives of 37 people, but as the mayor began speaking it was as if a whole new perspective was being shared. His anecdotal stories drew us into the world of personal losses suffered by the residents of Moore...
The winds were up to 250 miles an hour, but Gale, the mayor, walked out into the calmer winds after the bulk of the tornado had passed. In winds below 250 mph, Gale tells us that paperclip sized debris hitting his elbow would make his arm go numb. Devastation was widespread. Every resident was living a horror story and carrying their own burdens. All of these little details the newspapers failed to include in their publicity articles.
230 mph winds signify that whole neighborhoods are getting ripped of their foundations. Gale said “I’d walk out to where I knew there was supposed to be a neighborhood, and it’d just be flat land.The houses were ripped off their hinges to where only the cement foundation was left.
The cemetery had thousands of gravestones now reduced to stone bits.
The animals were running loose everywhere and needed to be rounded up, but that wasn’t even the biggest issue.
The most important thing is the people!”
After the storm, Moore had over 130 children unaccounted for. Gale, himself, and city helpers would go around using heat sensors to check for buried children. Unfortunately, most of the time, they would find a frightened dog or cat under an overturned car and the rescuers would get bit trying to find lost children.
People were frantic for their families. Gale rode in a car with a worry-crazed father driving to a badly hit site to find his lost son, and he recounted, “I never thought a truck can go 135 miles an hour, but it can. I thought I was going to die.”
In the aftermath of the destruction, a 1 1/2 mile wide path was carved out of Moore. Many houses were flattened, and the few left intact were not fit enough to live in. Articles fail to mention the thousands of homeless residents who cannot get a change of clothes, for there is nowhere to store the donated clothing. Families are living with friends or in hotels. Two families were residing with Gale himself, but Gale always kept faith. Help did come from many different places; although it was not the famed Red Cross who came to the rescue, but rather local people and newly founded organizations such as Help Moore who really made an impact. It was the Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball team that came to visit and also bought all the high school basketball teams new jerseys. It was the residential group that fundraised for new band instruments. It was Meals on Wheels that physically came out and fed starving people. It was Habitat for Humanity that built 3 new homes and gave them to the residents for free. Most of all, it was the volunteer group who reached into their own pockets and bought paints to refurbish homes themselves. All the broken gravestones were cleaned up before Memorial Day, a near impossible task, and the stray animals were rounded up by the same volunteers. In fact, when Gale requested help from the Red Cross, they replied that they were saving money for the next disaster. Is this not disastrous enough? If they are always saving money for the next disaster, when do they actually help in time of crises? In reality, it is the small people and their actions, which have helped rebuild Moore. I realized: we are not a worldwide organization, but in the end, it is the small things that count. It is the small organizations and groups of people that really make a difference. Because we took the time to do a 5K walk, raise money, and hand deliver our donations to the Mayor, we made our $750.00 of hard work and sweat count.
The mayor received our permission to donate the money raised from our run to buy paints for the volunteer group that is refurbishing houses, so that they do not have to fund their efforts from their pockets.