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8:26 am
Wed May 22, 2013

Red Cross Expects Okla. Shelters To Be Open For Weeks

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 9:29 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On a Wednesday, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Renee Montagne comes back tomorrow.

Rescue workers are nearing the end of their search for survivors in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, where a powerful tornado claimed 24 lives and injured hundreds. Officials said heavy rain slowed the rescue effort on Tuesday, but at least 100 people have been pulled from the debris alive. Now attention turns to the huge cleanup effort.

GREENE: The National Weather Service upgraded this tornado one level to an EF5. That is the highest score on the Enhanced Fujita scale. This tornado was over a mile wide and it had winds over 200 miles an hour when it hit and destroyed schools and homes.

WERTHEIMER: Yesterday, the number of dead was downgraded to 24 people; less than half of what was initially reported. The sharp decline is likely a recording error. But in a moment we'll hear from a civil engineer who has studied structural changes that might save lives in severe storms like this one.

GREENE: But we'll begin our coverage in the Moore, Oklahoma, where survivors begin the recovery process.

Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: A few miles west of the worst of the devastation, the Red Cross Shelter inside St. Andrews United Methodist Church was starting to see a slow but steady stream of victims who lost everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHELTER)

SIEGLER: And then there was Bev Naylor, who had just written her contact info on a note pad on a fold-out table underneath a small sign that read Missing Persons.

BEV NAYLOR: Just tried to call and called Red Cross and some of the hospitals. I've also checked the medical examiner; they don't have anybody by that name either, so that gives us hope.

SIEGLER: The name she's desperately looking for is Betty Drye, her cousin, who the family still hasn't been able to locate now more than a day after the tornado plowed through.

NAYLOR: In her area, you know, a half a block away, the homes are demolished. So I'm 99 percent certain her home is demolished; I'm just not certain of her health and where they are.

SIEGLER: Naylor's next move was to drive to the local Wal-Mart where her cousin works to see if they had any news. And like a lot of people in this shelter, Naylor was sleep deprived but trying to stay upbeat.

NAYLOR: I actually wrote on my Facebook last night that I was born and raised in Texas, I still consider myself a Texan. But right now I couldn't be any more proud to be an Oakie.

SIEGLER: Tornadoes are a part of life around here, as is the seemingly orderly and quick response to them. Out in back of the church, dozens of local volunteers in muddy boots and clothes formed a human chain, unloading and tossing box after box of donated food and cases of bottled water.

With so many people displaced by the tornado, Red Cross officials are preparing to keep these shelters open for weeks. There's plenty of room for more people here at St. Andrews, which is well stocked. Donations have also been pouring in to others nearby. Oklahoma's Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb says local officials have actually started turning away volunteers; the response has been that good. But that has Lamb worried about the long-term.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR TODD LAMB: Well, we need prayer. And it's important to note - and we appreciate everybody being here and so many media outlets reporting on the horrific tragedy here in Moore, Oklahoma - but in three days, in a week, in three weeks, there'll still be significant recovery and devastation here in Moore.

(SOUNDBITE OF A HELICOPTER)

SIEGLER: Over at the battered intersection of Telephone Road and Southwest Fourth Street in Moore, that devastation the lieutenant governor referred to is a jaw dropper. On one side of the road is a completely flattened 7-11, only a skeleton of its sign remains. On the other, utility crews are trying to hoist upright a tangle of downed power lines in front of a small strip mall. The mall is missing part of its roof. Broken glass is everywhere.

DOUGLAS JORGANS: A tire went through this building. You can see where it hit in the middle of the floor and crashed in the back of the building. So...

SIEGLER: We're looking at what looks like a nail salon?

JORGANS: Yes, a nail salon.

SIEGLER: Douglas Jorgans is a friend of the building's owner. And he and his father have come to board up all the broken windows and doors to keep more water from coming in.

Jorgans is still trying to process everything that's happened to his town.

JORGANS: I don't know. We couldn't just help but just cry today, just as we're driving through it you just - the emotion just comes over you, you don't choose to do it, you know. It's not a good sight.

SIEGLER: Jorgans, who doesn't seem like the type to break down in public, then straightens up his shoulders and says matter of factly: The recovery here will take months and months, and a lot of heart.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.