Hardy survivors of Tornado Alley take stock of losses29/11/2018 - Author: admin
The scale of destruction in Moore on the fringe of Oklahoma City was so vast that during the first full day of recovery authorities could do little more for dazed survivors than clear the roads and sling a protective perimeter around them.
Once the dead and injured were rushed from the shattered streets, police and national guards set up roadblocks in places as arbitrary as the twister itself.
As the sun set, the cordon was reinforced. No one who left the zone would be allowed to return after dark. Arc lights powered by growling generators threw shadows over the wreckage. On one block, a wrecked police car sat in a driveway. The officer had been on duty elsewhere when the storm hit.
As his family picked through the remains of his house, they kept their sense of humour: by sunset a garish Halloween mannequin’s head poked through the patrol car’s smashed windscreen.
Throughout the day, a highway dividing the path of destruction was choked with the traffic of day-to-day commuters, with onlookers (lambasted by radio broadcasts as ”lookyloos”) and army engineering vehicles hauling heavy equipment into the disaster zone.
By midnight, many in Moore were shocked not by how many had lost their lives but by how few. Early in the day authorities revised the death toll from 91 to 24, and there it was expected to stay, with 237 injured. This though the tornado had been upgraded from EF-4 to EF-5, the top of the scale.
The surrounding city was almost unscathed as residents watched Moore take a direct hit. About 2800 homes were damaged and 10,000 people directly affected by the twister’s 40-minute march.
In a medical centre that lost its whole faç¸ade and top floor no one was injured. Doctors and nurses had hauled patients to lower floors and covered them with mattresses. In a daycare centre that was also destroyed, teachers threw mattresses, and then themselves, over their charges. All survived.
At Briarwood Elementary School teachers packed their students into a bathroom. It was the only part of the structure left standing. There too all survived.
At Plaza Heights Elementary School, seven students, caught in the rooms and corridors of a building without a storm shelter, had lost their lives.
As soon as the storm passed, residents began the recovery. Those who still had homes patched holes with tarps and plywood.
On Tuesday, Fairfax Media crossed into the disaster zone and ended up ferrying one family back to their home. Their house was badly damaged, but a block away homes were reduced to kindling.
Nearby, James Cornell, 27, whose home resembled the mounds thrown up on a beach by a violent storm, recovered only a handful of sturdy tools and an outboard motor. As the tornado approached, he had jumped into his ute and headed to his grandparents’ home five minutes away, because, as he said, they didn’t get hit by the last two twisters that hit in 1999 and 2003.
He was insured but said glumly that if he did not have to rebuild here he would not.
Around the corner from Mr Cornell’s home, Justin Padden, 38, settled in to spend the night in his damaged home without power or water. He wanted to keep an eye on the wreckage of his neighbours’ homes. Armed with a handgun, he was not worried about looters.
Despite fears, by sunset there had been very little evidence of looting. Just two men, found with valuables in their pockets, had been arrested.
After the storm passed, those who had not evacuated crawled out of their storm shelters, if they had them, or from closets and bathtubs. Those who had fled made their way back. Groups formed rescue parties and began to dig.
They went from house to house, listening for calls for help, hauling out the injured and trapped and checking damaged homes.
Once they had established that a house was clear of occupants, they marked the debris with a spray-painted ”X” or ”OK”, speeding the work of authorities, who made it into the worst-hit zones within minutes.
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