Having lived in Illinois, Texas, and Oklahoma for most of my life, tornadoes are simply a part of life... but not like this. I have never seen this kind of devastation. Watching footage, seeing pictures, hearing stories, it is almost hard to believe its real. For me, it is even harder to believe it when I am looking at it in front of me. It just doesn't seem possible.
Over the past week, there has been an odd juxtaposition between immense tragedy and overwhelming community support and love. Hard times often bring out the best in others - we seem to all of sudden recognize that whether or not we even know each other, we're all in this together. Suddenly we realize the power of the collective.
Over the week...
At first, the recovery efforts were really geared towards donations and providing the immediate needs of affected families. The level of generosity shown far exceeded everyone's expectations. OU is housing around 100 families for the summer - they put out a call for diapers. Two hours later I brought by a bunch of diapers that were put on a surplus truck (to be sent to other recovery locations) because they no longer had room to store diapers - the need had been filled within 30 minutes. Social media has played such an important role in quickly bringing people together. And people have responded with tremendous effort. Several places had difficulty processing all of the donations quickly enough. And it is not just a local effort. On Wednesday, 3 semi trucks came in from somewhere in Minnesota completely filled with bottled water. We have responded as a community, but people across the nation have responded with similar fervor.
The volunteer efforts began with incredible strength. The city asked for 500 volunteers to help clean up the cemetery... making preparations for upcoming funerals. Hundreds of people showed up the next day and made this happen:
You may not realize it, but it involves the tedious task of picking up the tiny pieces of debris. Aside from the large chunks of building, furniture, cars, etc. there are all these tiny pieces of wood, roof, office supplies, glass, nails, personal belongings, etc. hiding everywhere.
Similarly, the Westboro Baptist Church (Cult) threatened to protest a funeral of a 9 year old boy who lost his life in one of the schools. 600 bikers came out and lined the streets to protect the family from these protest threats.
Nobody wants to mess with that many bikers...
The Orr Family Farm was a staple for field trips and family fun. Its your classic "learn about farming and ride a pony" kind of place. The farm and correlated horse training facility took a direct hit. They had over 100 horses and only 5 survived. On Saturday, I went to help with the recovery efforts.
The crazy thing about of a lot of the scenes is simply not being able to see what it was before. I was looking at this field and I said to someone, "What used to be here?"
This used to be the horse barn. There used to be beautiful structures and homes for the caretakers and horses and a beautiful field. Now it is a wasteland. The realization of what once was makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Saturday was spent picking up debris, salvaging what little things were salvageable, and separating debris into piles that were burnable and not. Honestly, for me, it is equal parts emotionally and physically draining.
Some highlights to the day:
Everybody is so nice. The staff, the other volunteers, the people who are there to help the volunteers. Everybody. So many good hearts. I ran into my coworker/friend LeaAnn and I was so happy to have a familiar face to spend the rest of the day with. We met a woman from Ohio - this was her 4th tornado to respond to voluntarily. As we were sitting down for a ridiculously delicious lunch (provided by Operation BBQ) she told us that her husband (in Ohio) just ran into a group of firefighters from Sandy Hook who were first responders to the school. They were on their way down to OK to offer aid and comfort to those who responded to the schools affected by the storm. It was a really touching moment that really signified the magnitude of everybody coming together.
I was pretty sore (silly tendon) from Saturday so this day I just made some food for people staying at my old church. Thanks to my Aunt Monica for giving me a recipe for yummy potato salad! That night, Governor Fallin was hosting a prayer and memorial service.
It was way too "Jesus-y" for my liking, but it was really nice to feel the community spirit. There was a lot of great music and inspiring words. A teacher from one of the schools came and told her story - we continue to hear how brave and amazing our teachers are. Then a bunch of the kids from the school came out to sing a song. It was adorable - like a big hug. Overall, the feeling of that night was remembrance and empowerment. "We may be victimized, but we will not remain victims - we will become victors."
The City of Moore and various organizations have responded with great efficiency. Servemoore.com and https://moore.recovers.org/news?tag=volunteering have been a great place to communicate needs and organize literally thousands of volunteers. On Monday, I went to the Serve Moore headquarters and was assigned to a house with a really fun bunch of people who drove up from San Marcos to spend their 3-day weekend volunteering. Again, the task was about separating and piling debris, saving anything of any redeeming value. I was happy to find a picture in the rubble that meant a lot to the owner. When you lose everything, these small pieces of life mean so much.
You've seen it all over the news, but here is a little video - a panoramic view, standing from his front yard.
The destruction is heartbreaking. But the resilience and beautiful display of humanity is overpowering.
If you would like to help:
- Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10.
- See information here: http://www.ok.gov/okstrong/
- Come volunteer! You're more than welcome to stay at the house and I'll spend the day with you in the sun helping out folks in need.
We may get knocked down by unbelievable force, but together we overcome and rebuild.
I'm proud to belong to this community.