Oklahoma town looks back on tornado that killed 24 one year ago
MOORE, Okla. — Max Broderick remembers exactly what he did a year ago Tuesday. He ran down fences, drove through fields and over curbs to get his family out of the way of the historic tornado that tattered Moore, Okla.
The dark gray monster that killed 24, including 9 children, was in his rear-view mirror, lathing a 17-mile wound into the landscape that was more than a mile wide in places.
Once it was gone, the Brodericks returned to their hometown just south of Oklahoma City.
The whirlwind — an EF5 tornado, the most destructive on the Fujita scale — had sheared houses, schools, businesses into sticks, bricks and shards that lay jumbled and jagged in the straight-line rows of their subdivision streets.
The Brodericks’ home and everything in it was gone, but something else was on Max’s mind — his neighbors who were missing.
He and other survivors ran up and down the street. “If you can hear me, call out,” he cried to anyone who might have been stuck under rubble and still alive.
The damage was so complete that when rescuers moved in, city officials raced to print new street signs to help guide them through the apocalyptic landscape.
A key home improvement
A year later, it’s tornado season again, and Broderick’s wife Sheridan seems happy about the new addition to their new home, which is still under construction.
“We’re gonna build our storm shelter right here kind of between the second and third cars so we can still get in even if there’s cars here,” she said, as a contractor worked inside the incomplete house.
Storm cellars are all the rage in the neighborhood now.
Other homes-in-progress dot the subdivision, where new houses stand surrounded by threadbare lots. One bald slab sports a rusty storm cellar door — apparently the only thing the tornado left standing there.
Nothing else has been added to that empty foundation.
The terror was too much for some residents, and they aren’t rebuilding, because they’re not coming back.
Last year’s cyclone injured 353 of them, and Moore is as prime target for twisters, right in the middle of “tornado alley.’
Tornado cat and mouse
Some of them may have recalled the May 1999 tornado that killed dozens in Moore. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has said it had the strongest wind speeds of any twister in history.
It was part of a spate of dozens of twisters in tornado alley in just a few days that year.
Or they may remember the 2003 tornado that was less deadly but ripped up buildings.
Or fright may still be in their bones from the tornado that ripped apart another Oklahoma City outlier last year one day before death visited Moore from above.
And trauma might still be fresh on their minds from the perhaps even bigger monster that missed Moore by a hair 11 days after its ravishing — the so-called El Reno tornado on May 31, 2013, that razed mostly sparsely populated countryside.
El Reno was “one of the most powerful tornadoes sampled by mobile radar and also the widest known tornado on record,” the National Weather Service said.
It seems that to live in Moore is to play cat and mouse with deadly storms with heart-rending consequences.
Seven of the nine children killed in last year’s tornado died when it flattened one single school building.
More than 70 students and teachers hunkered down at Plaza Towers Elementary, when the torquing winds pushed walls and ceilings down on top of them.
Plaza Towers had no storm shelter a year ago. That will change when the school is rebuilt.
Commemorations and a new start
Remaining Moore residents will celebrate their resilience on Tuesday with commemorations that start at 10 a.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern).
Gov. Mary Fallin and Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis will commemorate the dead, as the local fire department tolls a bell in their honor.
A chaplain will hold a prayer.
Then a shovel will plunge into the dirt for the groundbreaking of the new Moore Medical Center.
A year ago, the tornado tore the old one to pieces and tousled automobiles onto its ruins. Rescuers were forced to take Moore’s injured to other hospitals in the region.
In its place stands a barren empty lot of red earth. Something new will start to take form there on Tuesday.