Watching the heart-wrenching scenes of the tornado’s aftermath in Moore, Okla., drives home the realization of how quickly life can change. What had started as another spring day May 20, 2013, turned into an unthinkable nightmare shortly after 3 p.m. when an EF-5 tornado tore through the town of 56,000. The monster storm stretched 1.3 miles in width and cut a path of destruction 17 miles long. It was on the ground approximately 40 minutes. During that time at least 24 people were killed - including nine children - 237 people injured and 13,000 homes damaged.
The death toll would have been much higher if it not for the 16-minute advanced warning the National Weather Service had issued. Residents were told to seek cover – below ground if possible. With 85 percent of the homes without basements, that made finding such a location difficult. Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said he will push for a law requiring storm shelters or safe rooms in new homes built in the community that has endured three tornadoes in less than 15 years.
It’s hard to imagine the force of an EF5 tornado. Meteorologists say the twister that struck Moore was from 8 to 600 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Wind speeds reach more than 200 mph – stronger than that of a hurricane.
Moore’s tornado and its aftermath bring back painful memories.
Early on the morning of June 14, 1976, I drove to Jordan (just a few miles east of Boone). Reports of a tornado striking the small town the afternoon before had made the 10 p.m. television news. (This was before such tragic events brought instant media coverage.)
I had photographed the destruction left by tornadoes before and thought I knew what to expect. I didn’t.
The EF5 tornado had literally wiped the village of Jordan off the map. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instead of taking pictures, I just sat in my car and stared in disbelief. Describing it as a war zone would be understating what I was witnessing.
When I finally mustered the mettle to leave my automobile I felt as if I had landed by spaceship on a faraway planet. It had destroyed every building in town. Trees did not look like trees. They had been stripped of their leaves, branches and even bark. Telephone poles had been twisted, strands of straw blown into them, and then twisted back as if the straw had been driven into them like nails.
The skeletons of vehicles, squashed like pop cans, were scattered about. Sections of sidewalks had been sucked from the ground and tossed like paper. Cement blocks from basement foundations littered what remained of lawns and streets.
A shell of a house stood like a tombstone, surrounded by sticks which were once trees - portions of its roof and siding blown miles away. Roofing nails were everywhere. Boards pulled loose from structures had been propelled like huge bullets. Witnesses said the storm first appeared like "the underside of a saucer."
After striking Jordan, the tornado took a "U" shaped path. It would lose some of its power, but go on to cause considerable damage along the countryside near Gilbert and Story City. Fortunately, no one was killed, but it is estimated that more than 60 homes and 300 farm buildings were destroyed, along with hundreds of head of livestock killed. The tornado was on the ground for an hour, was a half mile wide and 21 miles long.
(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives in Cambridge.)