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Moore looks back one year after tornado
In this photo combination, David Lee Estep (top) sits atop a pile of rubble that was the home he shared with his parents on May 23, 2013, in Moore, Okla., three days after it was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado. The bottom photo shows Estep standing for a photo with his parents, Laura Lee and Donald Estep, near their rebuilt home on May 7. (AP)
Monday, May 19, 2014
MOORE, Okla. (AP) — When the storm came, it wasn’t a surprise. Tornadoes have a habit of ripping through town, and the forecasters had been warning for days that another was going to descend from dark clouds sure to gather in the late afternoon.
The only question was: What horror would this tornado wreak this time? A year later, the answers still scar the Oklahoma City bedroom community of Moore.
In all, 24 people died in the May 20, 2013, storm, among them seven children killed inside a school that didn’t have a shelter. Hundreds were injured. Thousands of homes and other buildings were removed from the map.
The recovery from the tornado, twisting with 210 mph winds as it took 39 minutes to carve its 17-mile-long path of destruction, remains halting.
Neighborhood streets end in dirt roads with piles of rubble and tree roots. There are new homes that have taken the place of those lost, and broken houses that still bear the spray paint markings left after emergency responders searched for any dead inside.
A year later, The Associated Press spent a day in Moore, returning to some of the people and places photographed in the days after the storm hit. Here are some of the stories about their journey to recover from the monster that took their homes and stole so many lives.
Abby Cotten was going to knock off early, but her boss in hospital admissions knew better. When he saw what was in the forecast, and watched the tornado develop on television and plow through Moore, he wouldn’t let her leave. Not until it was safe did he drive the 28-year-old home, to the house where she grew up and still shared with her parents.
“I didn’t even recognize my street at the time,” Cotten said. “I was counting driveways to try and find my house.”
Cotten’s parents had owned the home for 37 years. They learned it was gone while on vacation, in an email Cotten sent from her phone to their hotel in Mexico. They never really came home — Cotten’s mom didn’t want to stay in the neighborhood — and her parents decided to rebuild a few miles away. But Cotten herself is staying put. Habitat for Humanity will build a new home for her on the empty lot later this summer.
“Even this morning the weather was bad and I was getting ready to go to work and I was thinking, ‘Should I bring things with me or not? What if the day turns out like it did that day?”’ she said.
Linda Harville had seen her share of tornadoes. She’d lived in Moore for 32 years, and Moore is the kind of place where a storm’s severity is measured not by wind speed but in lives lost.
“There had been four huge tornadoes that had come through Moore since ’98, and (they) all took kind of the same path,” the 62-year-old said. “It came right down through the same downtown area of Moore. It was just that it would veer a little bit north or south.”
Until last year when, she said, “it finally hit my house.” Just about everything was destroyed, and what was left is still in storage. She hasn’t yet found the time or emotional strength to sort through it.
“I tried going through it that next week, but then the other tornado came through, and then it got so hot,” Harville said. “Probably half of it will have to be thrown away. I don’t know really what I have and don’t have.”
She lives in Edmond now, 30 minutes to the north. It’s still located in tornado alley, but at least it isn’t Moore.
“Why would you want to move back to a little town where you know in four or five years there’s gonna be another EF-5 tornado to wipe it out?” she said. “There’s a target there on Moore. It’s kind of obvious after all these years.”