‘It’s Like a War Zone’: Horror and Heroism in Oklahoma After Tornado Tears Through

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Kenneth M. Ruggiano for TIME

First responders and residents recover amid the aftermath of a deadly tornado in Moore, Okla. on Monday, May 20, 2013.

Updated: May 21, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

Brandon Morgan wanted to get up early to chase tornadoes. But Morgan, 22, overslept, and by the time he rolled out of bed on Monday, the first in a series of deadly storms was already descending on Moore, his hometown. Morgan, whose hobby is chasing storms, first spotted the twister near the 7-Eleven gas station. He reported the sighting and then ran into the station to urge the four people inside to take cover. Minutes later, all four were killed.

Morgan, meanwhile, had raced away in his car, not realizing just how big the tornado was — a category 4, out of 5, on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. The storm seemed to follow him as he sped across town on Interstate 35. When the storm dissipated, he called his brother, who lives nearby, and the two headed to their grandfather’s house, not far from the 7-Eleven. Along the way they pulled two women out of the ruins of a Dollar General, and tried to get to a home that was on fire. “You hear screams, you go help,” says Morgan, who works in security and is a National Guardsman. “The military taught me that.”

(WATCH: Videos Reveal Startling Size of Oklahoma Tornado)

A massive search and rescue operation is now under way to find anyone else who might be trapped in the miles of devastated homes and buildings. According to the official counts, Monday’s twister left at least 24 dead, including 9 children who were trapped in their elementary school. It was initially thought that the storm claimed 51 lives, but Tuesday morning the Oklahoma medical examiner lowered that number, citing the storm’s initial chaos as the reason for the inflated number. But as the sun rose Tuesday morning, the death toll was also expected to spike. Most striking, though, is how the town’s landscape was drastically altered in minutes. What was once a community of homes and a ranch next to the school is now a patchwork field strewn with debris. Fallen trees arch over the rubble of flattened houses.

Compounding the misery is the fact that Moore has known tragedy before. Less than half-a-mile from the Dollar General an EF5 tornado cut an ugly swath through Moore 14 years ago, killing 36 people. The “May 3 devastation,” as folks in Oklahoma City call it, was the worst tornado to hit the area in a generation—that is, until this one. Morgan’s grandfather, for instance, survived the twister, but lost yet another home. “This is the fourth house he’s lost to tornadoes,” Morgan said. “He moved here because Moore had already been hit.”

President Obama has declared a state of emergency in five Oklahoma counties and sent in the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Except for first responders and groups like the Red Cross, the entire area was closed off as officials raced to evacuate the remaining survivors and clear downed gas and power lines to make it safe for residents to return to salvage what they can.

Morgan, the storm chaser, could have reported to the Guard for duty, but instead he decided to help Fire Corps, a non-profit founded by veteran emergency responder Larry Wooter, 61. Wooter and his teams came up from Hinton, Okla., about 70 miles away and were driving around the disaster zone, handing out hot pizza, sandwiches, chips and water to the first responders. By midnight, much of the rescue operations had ceased and the focus shifted to recovery.

(PHOTOS: Tornado Flattens Oklahoma City Suburb, Kills Dozens)

Tagging along with Fire Corps was Malorie Gulikers, 30, the newly crowned Mrs. Oklahoma. Gulikers was in the Target around the corner from the devastated Plaza Towers Elementary School, when the tornado hit. When she emerged, her car was blocked by debris and she was told by first responders to run. She did, heading for her six-year-old son’s nearby school. After determining he, her husband and their home were okay, she returned to the disaster zone. “I just couldn’t rest after this. I couldn’t sleep,” she says. “I had to help.”

At Broadway and SW Fourth Street, she picks up a scrapbook and jewelry box laying next to a teddy bear on the muddy ground. “I’m going to make it my mission to give these back to the little girl that lost them,” she says, fingering a homemade bracelet that says “Mom” in beads.

Hundreds of people are now without homes, even more without power. Cheley Stewart turned up at a shelter at St. Andrews church about three miles from Plaza Towers Elementary. The house she’d been staying at with her grandmother and uncle was half gone, but her relatives refused to leave. Stewart and her three kids will stay at the shelter for the foreseeable future. “It’s like a war zone in there,” Stewart says, trying to comfort her crying six-year old. “It’s crazy, I know. But everything will be alright.”

At Broadway and SW 4th Street someone took the tattered remains of what was once a proud American flag hanging in front of what was once a home and planted it in the crumpled shell of a blue car. It waved, torn, in the wind as another set of thunderstorms approached around midnight. A few firefighters snapped pictures. “That’s amazing. It was like that when we got here,” Vernon Boyce, 51, a Moore firefighter, says, nodding at the flag. “It’s a symbol: we’ll go on.”

This story has been updated to reflect the changing death toll.

28 comments
achantegrelet
achantegrelet

Saturday 01st June 2013. From Miss Anna Chnategrelet (Luton, Bedfordshire, England, EUROPE), with the Magnificent American Internet Explorer at Google search: American server fastmail on my E-mail box access a second message to the people of Oklahoma in Moore suburd victims of the horrific to Tornedo devastation. I wish you all the comfort and the maximum rescue in this terrible time of the TORNEDO consequenses fallen inthe town of Morre. I hope you in safe and welfare with the great organisations as I.F.A.W and American Red Cross to provide the essential of your safety and emotional rescue. Yesterday again, in England, Europe on the television medias or radio french...  they were talking back about the tornado in action in OKLAHOMA. They were at the 1st explaining that it was two enormous collision of a roll of cold and hot waves of air one coming down from California and the second coming up from south golf of Mexico and encountering at the state of Oklahoma managing the devastation of the Oklahoma region in the suburd of Moore. I am rushing of my time hope to get you on sending comments very soon.

WISH ALL THE BEST OF RECOVERY.

Bye!, Bye!. O'clock: 16:23:00 p.m. minus 6 hours in U.S.A.

JonGibson
JonGibson


http://www.monolithic.com/topics/benefits


http://www.monolithic.com/topics/schools


http://www.monolithic.com/topics/benefits-survivability


http://www.monolithic.com/stories/beach-front-homes-building-for-wind-water-and-corrosion


http://vimeo.com/user10740987/review/59106250/6da9ebdec7


People need to know.... my links aren't spam, nor am I paid to help people find out how to survive.... I'm simply worn-out from all the deaths and destruction that COULD BE prevented, if people would just build structures to suit the environment they're in. Please, stop wasting lives, resources, money and energy.... Please. 


The ugliest house is one that fails to protects its inhabitants. Even worse when it's an inefficient waste of resources and energy....

malditoroedortv
malditoroedortv

Hopefully the storms do not directly affect poblacionai high concentration areas in the coming days. The mass of thunderstorms that went through the Heart of the Nation during the weekend and Monday, focused his wrath on Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan area. Suburbs such as Moore were destroyed in the most dreadful and gigantic tornado that has devastated The Great Plains in History. Moore landscape is now like Hiroshima after the bomb, fortunately with no radiation. In 1999 another tornado crossed Moore (OK) on a path parallel and very close to yesterday's. View images and solidarity tweets on http://alturl.com/eobxn

Anyway, most of people in Europe is now asking themselves about why americans houses are mainly builded in wood not in brick and concrete. What is the difference between brick and mortar buildings or cardboard and wood in case of tornado? In the link above there are a video with a brick house untouched and all around other houses absolutelly destroyed. Is a money question? Better to be buried under a wooden house? :-P

TheresaPhan
TheresaPhan

"You hear screams, you go help,” says Morgan, ...“The military taught me that.” Well actually I think that most people would react that way naturally, without military training.

allahislord
allahislord

Observe the destruction Allah has bestowed upon thee.

malditoroedortv
malditoroedortv

The mass of thunderstorms that went through the Heart of the Nation during the weekend and Monday, focused his wrath on Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan area. Suburbs such as Moore were destroyed in the most dreadful and gigantic tornado that has devastated The Great Plains in History. Moore landscape is now like Hiroshima after the bomb, fortunately with no radiation. In 1999 another tornado crossed Moore (OK) on a path parallel and very close to yesterday's. View images and solidarity tweets on http://alturl.com/eobxn

petersen
petersen

At a time of extreme tragedy and unimaginable sadness for the victims of such a disaster, the last thing they need is for heartless and grandstanding politicians in Washington to rush press releases touting their "fiscal responsibility" in denying even basic aid from the federal government. Oklahoma deserves our prayers and our tireless assistance, not lectures from Tea Party hacks juggling their artificial outrage over some IRS questionnaires that have their most unhinged supporters in a tizzy. Republicans need to stop blocking disaster aid, and to publicly promise to do so while bodies are still being recovered is despicable...  progress

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

little known fact, this is actually the big bad republicans' fault. bush actually planned this before leaving office back in 08

gliderpilot10
gliderpilot10

As for climate change, the earth did not heat up 480 million years ago when plants began to lay down fossils and the atmosphere was at least 20 percent CO2.

As for tornados, thunderstorms rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter clockwise in the southern hemisphere for the same reason water going down the drain rotates - the coreolis force.  As the earth rotates on its axis and also circles the sun, the coreolis force is set up.  Also, angular momentum is conserved, so that slow rotation of the storm at high elevation must exhibit the same angular momentum at the ground.  Thus ground rotation must be have a far higher tangential speed.  Tornados do not occur much in areas of the world where mountains break up the rotation. 

gliderpilot10
gliderpilot10

Understanding tornados is like understanding why climate change is a natural process, not a man made one.

fitty_three
fitty_three

I send my most solemn and deepest condolences to those who've lost family members and friends.  

I send my most heartfelt thanks to those who have responded, and are continuing to respond, to the many emergencies and rescue efforts going on in OKC.

ViableOp
ViableOp

While the increasing frequency of the most severe storms and weather events may not be related to climate change, eventually, the very definition of climate states that these weather events will accumulate to show changes in climate.  As shown here, the trend is already suggesting that this summer could well be a record dry one for the United States if current conditions continue:


http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2013/04/summer-2013-new-record-drought-for.html

tommyudo
tommyudo

@petersen


Inhofe and Coburn and their ilk want "fiscal responsibility"and govt. off sets to pay for the clean-up. Well, how about we don't have off sets that harm other needed programs and let the people of OK pay for the damage themselves? Using the same right wing argument I've heard before about people who get flooded along the Mississippi or their houses burning down in CA wildfires - "they chose to live there. Why should we pay for their mistakes"? When are these cretins going to decide whether we are all in this together, or it's every man for themselves?

Adevarul
Adevarul

@petersen You lost me after Oklahoma deserves our prayers and our tireless assistance

It is sickening to see people on the left and the right forget about ideas to help Americans - we are ALL Americans - and turn the internet into one more vitriol filled political squabble.  How about everyone turning off their computers and gathering at a releif agency to personally go lend a hand.  We did it as National Guardsmen and I've done it numerous times since.  

fitty_three
fitty_three

@cjh2nd  

Another little known fact is that the Great Recession started in earnest in 2008.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@gliderpilot10 

You don't know anything about paleoclimate, or, for that matter, the mechanics of tornadoes, do you?

480 million years ago, the only plants on land were charophyts and primitive ancestors to clubmosses.  CO2 levels were about 10 times current levels:

http://deforestation.geologist-1011.net/PhanerozoicCO2-Temperatures.png

Temperatures were much higher than today, with the exception of glaciations, which were caused by landmasses moving over the polar regions.  Temperatures and CO2 dropped to 250 ppm (approximately equal to today's level) during the Carboniferous, 310 million years ago.

And tornadoes?  

Warm air rises and cold air sinks, so when two great air masses with enough temperature difference meet over land bare of obstructions, they have virtually unlimited freedom in the ways they can interact.  The Coriolis affect has very little to do with it - except for the large scale direction of winds around storm centers.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@gliderpilot10 Some climate change is a "natural process."  Some is exacerbated by human input.  I am inclined to think that we are on the leading edge of some really interesting times, and we will have only ourselves to blame.

RickHunter
RickHunter

@fitty_three @cjh2nd Due to the failed policies set forth prior to that year by the outgoing administration.  Obummer is no better, but let's be real on where it REALLY started... not just continued.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Piacevole

The decrease in the rate of rising global temperatures is not a blessing in disguise.  It's most likely happening because some of the forcing caused by increased CO2 levels is being tapped to melt polar ice.

In short, rising temperatures are being traded for rising sea levels.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@fitty_three @RickHunter 

Remember when future President McCain suspended his campaign to help "deal" with the financial meltdown? I do too.