LIVING IN TORNADO ALLEY

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On Monday, May 20, I sat safely in my apartment in NYC, watching the tornado decimating Moore, Oklahoma LIVE on the weather channel.  The storm was massive, and the TV  anchors kept saying they weren’t sure whether it was an F3 or higher, and were disappointed that the mile-wide funnel wasn’t traveling faster, as it destroyed the countryside.  Imagine a vacuum cleaner mixed with a trash compactor and a bomb that is a mile wide, and you’ll have a better idea of what was rolling across the countryside at only(?!!) thirty miles an hour.

It amazed me that they didn’t seem to grasp the implications of something that large moving so slowly.  As someone who grew up in Kansas–in the middle of a part of the country where you knew these storms were possible every moment of every day from April to November, I had no doubt just how much destruction was being hidden by the necessary distance from the funnel and the accompanying rain.  What they were seeing was the complete obliteration of everything the funnel touched. Sitting on a nice. level plain–perfect terrain for heavy damage– Moore had been destroyed by a similar storm in 1999, and this also surprised the newscasters. I felt sorry for the helicopter pilot, who had family living in Moore, and knew he was probably watching them loose their houses.  He kept it together, but he was shaken.

Salina, KS used to have a trailer park located in a slight valley area of the city, called, Sunset Trailer park, which was destroyed by tornadoes three times; with the funnels taking exactly the same path all three times. I was in undergraduate school in Salina, the year the park–only a mile away– was destroyed for the third time as we ate dinner.  Looking out the windows of the school, people could see trailers spinning in mid-air. The funnel traveled towards us, then lifted back up into the sky as it crossed the nearby graveyard.  The next morning we drove out to the trailer park to see if we could aid one of our classmates who had lived there.  All the trailers were gone, with debris everywhere, and pieces of metal from the trailers wrapped around trees and telephone poles nearby.  The four-story, solid brick clubhouse/shelter was completely gone, with only a cement slab to mark where it had been.  I’d been in that building the previous winter for a party.  i couldn’t believe that some thing that solid had been so utterly destroyed.  A block away from there, the houses were untouched.

But, that’s the reality of a tornado.  They appear in seconds, do terrible destruction, roll back into the clouds and disappear as if they had never existed. The funnel moves like the tip of a whip, snapping back and forth, hitting somethings, while missing others.  The force of the winds can drive a straw through a two by four board, snatch a baby from his mother’s arms while leaving the woman standing there.(True story, the storm hit just as people were leaving a church, snatched the baby away, and the family searched miles looking for the body.  They found it 5 miles from the church).  Tornadoes can empty a barn while leaving the structure intact, and rip metal into so much confetti.

The people of Moore knew the storm was coming; you learn to watch the sky and look for the signs, which is more dependable than waiting for the sirens to sound; often they go off too late because of how fast the funnels come down.  But there was simply nothing they could do about it, and no way to avoid the destruction.  These storms are a part of living in the Midwest, as Hurricanes are for the East coast, earthquakes for California, Sunamis for Hawaii, and incredible snowfalls for places like Minnesota.  But with the climate changes the world has undergone in recent years, the storms are increasing in severity, and frequency.  We can’t change nature, but building codes and preparation must change.  The emergency responders were there right away from all over the region, but still, why aren’t storm shelters part of the building requirements for all trailer parks? and many of the homes didn’t have basements!  Riding out the storm in a bathroom sounds good in theory, but when the bathroom is dissolved along with the rest of the house, the bathroom is no protection.  People laugh about the atomic bomb shelters everyone built in the 50’s ,but I wonder if they didn’t have an idea there.  A massive underground shelter should be available for trailer parks, schools; anywhere that large groups of people will probably be located.

My heart goes out to all the people of Moore and Oklahoma City.  It has taken me years to be able to sleep through thunderstorms without the terror of missing the storm sirens, and not having time to run for shelter.  The cities will rebuild, but I know the residents will take even longer to recover.

If you want to help the people in Oklahoma, read this article which lists the various methods to contact relatives and contribute:  Go to http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/20/18381508-how-to-help-oklahoma-tornado-victims?lite .

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