Last Monday I received a frantic phone call that wasn't even intended for me. My phone rang with my mother on the other end who promptly exclaimed "I have to call your dad there is a tornado!" and then hung up the phone. You see, I knew Oklahoma was expecting severe weather that day and we had already double checked our emergency bags the night before just to make sure they were ready to go. It was only late afternoon here so we hadn't even begun to watch the weather yet and were in fact just playing out with the kids when the call came in. After that call we immediately turned to the weather only to hear the reporter telling residents in the Moore area that if they were not underground they would not likely survive this storm. Panic only begins to describe what I was feeling at that moment. I wasn't sure where my family was, I knew my dad should be at work but didn't know if my mother or my sister and nephews were at home or out somewhere else. I immediately began trying to contact someone but of course couldn't reach anyone. As they started to name the streets closer and closer to my mother's neighborhood all I could do was watch and pray for their safety. You see, my parents don't have a storm shelter at their house and I wasn't sure they would be able to find one in time. I watched and waited as the storm, an EF5 tornado, demolished everything in its path before finally disappearing.
Finally she called again, frantic and yelling for me to call 911 because her neighborhood was gone and someone needed to know. I couldn't get through to her to tell her that they knew, everyone was watching this unfold before their eyes. What she didn't know at that moment was that her neighborhood wasn't the only one to be hit, the devastation was much worse than they knew at that moment. Thankfully they had went to their next door neighbor's underground shelter just before the storm had hit...my mother, father, sister, and twin nephews all survived the storm.
The shelter they took cover in during the storm.
I felt helpless and wanted to go to them immediately to help though I wasn't sure what to do at that point. Due to the severe weather that was still predicted for our area (that thankfully stayed clear of us) Rocky convinced me to wait. So Tuesday the girls and I spent the day packing and gathering supplies (thanks to so many generous people right here at home) to take with us and early Wednesday morning we headed down to see what we could do to help. The pictures do very little to convey what the damage is really like in person. My father said something that summed it up well to me "It looks just like something you see on tv happening somewhere else." and that is true. We're Oklahomans, we know what tornado damage looks like and we all know it could happen anywhere but we also are good at assuming it will happen somewhere else. This time it was not the case for them, it was a very surreal feeling.
For the first few days only residents were allowed in (and even then only during certain hours). Wednesday morning I was let in with my mother to capture those photos above and help sort through the debris. They were still not letting in volunteers but that certainly didn't stop people from doing what they could to help out. On street corners just outside of the neighborhoods you could find volunteers that couldn't pass the baracades so they set up supplies right there. Cases of water, food, and supplies stacked high ready for anyone that needed them. There were individuals with grills and smokers in the back of trucks and on trailers cooking for anyone and everyone. It was incredible to see.
Once the volunteers were allowed in I was even more amazed at the generosity I saw. Neighbors pitching in the help one another when they themselves were in great need of help not to mention the strangers that flocked in from all over the country willing to do anything they could to help everyone. Volunteers going from house to house working all day long to help people recover anything they could find and save. Local churches, business, and restaurants coming around with supplies and meals for everyone and looking for anyone that they could do anything for. It was so heartwarming to see everyone coming together during this time. Always look for those helping, there are always helpers.
My sister and I took turns staying at her house with the children, but my girls asked again and again to go see as well. They had helped gather supplies, they had seen the news and pictures we had taken and wanted to go. We debated about letting them see the damage in person but in the end decided it was the right decision, and so they went.
It helped Kinsley to understand what happened and helped to calm Kinsley's fears of the storms once she was really able to see what was happening and that even though all that damage could occur her family was still safe. She appreciated seeing all the volunteers helping everyone and really saw why it was important to help whenever possible. It was a long heartbreaking week but at the same time so uplifting. We were able to save some wonderful family items that had survived the storm so that was wonderful. Stuff is just stuff afterall, but there are always things that cannot be replaced and each item we recovered was incredible. It was hard digging through the rubble and realizing that was all that was left, I can only imagine how my parents were feeling. They have remained in good spirits, though I know it has been hard for them to do so.
I was amazed by the spirits of the residents of her neighborhood. All were simply thankful to have their families safe and sound and were looking forward to getting back on their feet. Neighbors that might not have spoken much in the busy day to day of normal life were jumping right in and offering everything they had left to anyone who might need it. It was incredibly uplifting. They all have a long road ahead of them but I have no doubt they will find their way through.
Sidenote: All pictures were taken in or around my mother's neighborhood and I tried to keep the pictures from showing too much of anyone else's house out of respect. We didn't venture into the harder hit West side of Moore as we felt it was our primary concern to help my family and their neighborhood and not intrude on others during this difficult time, especially not for the sake of photographs.