MOORE, Okla. — Whenever high winds arise in Tornado Alley–this corridor of the state with a history of disasters–residents pay attention. On Sunday evening, beneath overcast skies, there were slight gusts of wind, but it would have taken another EF5 tornado like the one experienced last Monday to postpone the memorial services for the fallen at First Baptist Church.
The vast church, where Pastor Kevin Clarkson presides, was prepared to host a crowd of more than 4,500, but the Memorial Day weekend may have lessened the turnout to an estimated 2,000. Many were hoping that President Barack Obama would be among the speakers, but he had come earlier in the day, visiting families of victims and first responders, touring this devastated community, a suburb of Oklahoma City. It should also be noted that the tornado killed two residents in nearby Shawnee.
“This is a strong community with strong character,” Obama said at a press conference with Gov. Mary Fallin by his side. “There’s no doubt they will bounce back … but they need help.”
And help was already heavily evident around Moore, where a week ago, 24 perished, including 10 children, and more than 12,000 homes were destroyed. Volunteers from across the nation arrived with “Disaster Relief” emblazoned on their trucks, trailers and vans.
“We have much to do,” Fallin said during her moment at the church’s podium. “This has certainly been a trying time for our state. The loss of life was traumatic for us. It’s been a sad week.”
Some of the sadness is being assuaged by an announcement from the Obama administration that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has earmarked $57 million in rebates and incentives to begin the rebuilding of storm shelters, which played such a vital role for many of the storm’s survivors.
Disasters of this magnitude are fairly common in Oklahoma, according to FEMA, and the state suffers a disproportionate share of disasters. Oklahoma is number one when it comes to deadly twisters. Of the 25 counties that have been declared disasters the most times since 1953, nine are in Oklahoma–the most of any state.
But the resilience of residents here is remarkable. That point was stressed by Fallin and echoed resoundingly by a community choir comprised of members from several local churches. The harmonious emphasis on the third verse of “Amazing Grace” was particularly moving and inspirational for the audience: “The Lord has promised good to me/His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be/as long as life endures.”
Life clearly endures in Moore. The rebuilding of homes has already begun in sections of the community and the convoy of volunteers, including a delegation of Black teenagers from Alabama, is a strong indication that it won’t be long before Moore is once again a thriving community.