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One Year Later, Moore, Okla., Heals and Rebuilds

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A year ago, one of the strongest tornadoes on record tore through Moore, Okla., killing  24 people, leveling thousands of homes and causing over $2 billion in damage.

It’s been a difficult year for the residents of Moore. We’ve heard amazing and heroic stories as well as heartbreaking stories of grief and tragedy. The powerful twister destroyed two of our elementary schools: Briarwood Elementary where 300 students survived and Plaza Towers Elementary where nine precious children lost their lives. Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to their families.

Looking back, one touching moment comes to mind as I recall that dreadful day. The Moore tornado struck near Newcastle, Oklahoma, at 2:56 p.m. CDT, moving eastward and traveling about 10 miles. It was a Monday.

The next day, I got an urgent call from an elderly couple trapped in their home with no electricity; they were stranded without food or water. They couldn’t get out of their home.

I called the pastor of my church and requested supplies for the elderly couple. Then, my son, Camron and I loaded up my car with supplies, and we headed to Wiley and Pam Mize’s home on Lakecrest Drive.

The tornado had carved a trail of destruction about 1.3 miles wide and 17-miles long, and many of the survivors were marooned in their homes. Its 210 mph winds had turned neighborhoods into military-like zones, with emergency crews and police scattered everywhere and check-points limiting access to the devastated  area.

That Tuesday, the whole area resembled a war zone, with entire neighborhoods flattened, trees toppled, and emergency workers searching franticly for  survivors. As we approached the check-point, I got a feeling it was going to be harder than I imagined to reach Mr. and Mrs. Mize. Miraculously, the officer at the first check-point waved us on.

Driving deeper into the destruction zone, we approached a second check-point, which took us past the Briarwood Elementary, whose façade and roof had been sheared off, but all the school children had made it out alive. It was an eerie sight.

At Plaza Towers Elementary, we noticed that the school had been reduced to pile of twisted metal and toppled walls. Shortly after, we were able to reach the Mize home and unload our valuable supplies of food, milk, water, ice and other necessities.

After we finished stocking up the Mize family, Camron and I went to other homes and delivered more of the much-needed supplies.

Looking back, as unimaginable as it seems to lose everything in a matter of seconds, to be able to bring relief to someone in need is a cool bright spot.

But many positive developments have occurred since last May. The City of Moore toughened building codes, enacting 11 building code improvements suggested by structural engineers. The new laws will make future homes more stable and safer. Moore residents are rebuilding their homes and their lives. Of the 23,000 residential properties in Moore, 1,700 homes were damaged or  completely destroyed, and more than half have rebuilt or remodeled their  properties.

One year later, the debris may be  gone — more than 149,000  tons — but the recovery and rebuilding is painstakingly slow and is taking a long time to complete. As the community moves forward to meet the needs of those affected by the May 2013 storm, we as a community, need to come together and have faith.

The healing and rebuilding continues for many in our community and our state. But sometimes it’s the little things that  bring joy — and hope. Even though we’ve lost so much; we’ve gained so much from so many good people who are out there. Although the road to recovery is rocky we will get through this painful part of our history. Today, we remember the 24 lost in the storm, including seven children, and look ahead to the recovery of our  community.

Russell Benson is a REALTOR® with Prudential Alliance Realty in Oklahoma  City, Oklahoma. He can be reached at russell-benson@att.net.


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