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Thursday May 30, 2013 The devastation of Moore ... first hand

Updated: 2:07pm, May 30


MOORE, Okla. -- Tim Walton and his family held their collective breaths as they watched the terror unfold last week.

“My wife is from Oklahoma,” the Florida softball coach said Wednesday. “We were glued to the TV for two or three days probably like everybody else across the country. But it’s so different when you’re familiar with the area and the streets and the paths.”

The devastation of the E5 tornado that flattened this town May 20 and killed 24 people remains the dominant storyline in the region, as FEMA workers and volunteers still have months of clean-up work ahead.

Meanwhile, families are picking up their lives.

On Wednesday, I made the drive to Moore, about 10 miles to the southeast of Oklahoma City. Traffic slows to a crawl on Interstate-35, where the twister crushed a shopping mall in plain sight of cars heading north or south.

On the other side of that mall, is a subdivision of homes that was totally wiped out. Several bulldozers and bobcats hummed about hauling debris. Tossed and scattered about were simple signs of people’s everyday lives -- chairs, checkbooks, toothpaste tubes and televisions -- so easily taken for granted, yet rendered useless and insignificant by the indiscriminate brutality of the storm. 

Man cleaning The last time I saw anything remotely like this was on assignment in New Orleans as a newspaper reporter in the months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The images, some captured below with my cell phone, were as unfathomable as they were heartbreaking.  

I walked past one lot (pictured right) that had been almost completely cleared. All that remained was a brick chimney, strong enough survive the storm. The owner was there sweeping the concrete slab even as a thunderstorm brewed in the distance.

“This is home,” he said. “We’ll be back here.”

A wave of tornadoes hit here in 1999. Four years before that, Timothy McVeigh came through town.

Walton was here for both those tragedies; as an assistant softball coach at University of Oklahoma for the latter, as a Sooners pitcher standout for the former. He knows the resolve of the people of this state and spoke about that during Wednesday’s news conference at the Women’s College World Series.

“I came here as a player from California because of the people, because of how well they treated me and how well they treated the Sooners,” Walton said. “I know that’s what they’ll do. There are so many people willing to help. This area hosts this tournament because of how open-armed they are. They’re willing to bend over backward for people.”

[Example: OU football football Bob Stoops, who has some Gators ties himself, showed up at a volunteer clean-up site (in jeans, work gloves and Sooners visor) and worked anonymously for 30 minutes before a fan recognized who he was.]

Walton has seen that Sooners spirit and knows it will carry the region through.

“It’s tough. My daughter, who is young, was very scared to think that something could happen to our family that lives close by," he said. "With these kids losing their lives ... it’s very humbling, very sad. But in the same sense, the state of Oklahoma will band together, get help, rebuild, rebound and be better and stronger for it.”


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