After the wind

May 21, 2013 

Oklahoma Tornado

An American flag adorns a tree in the rubble in Moore, Okla.


The tearing wrought by a tornado near Oklahoma City, the cruel randomness of the death and destruction it delivered, has also torn at Americans in other parts of the country, leaving them full of sympathy and eager to help.

Tornadoes, of course, are painfully common in Tornado Alley, but each time we see what they leave behind – trees snapped, cars tossed, blocks of homes scraped clean – it’s hard to absorb and accept. The wind did this? That weightless thing became this terribly strong?

In Moore, Okla., the tornado went through in the afternoon Monday. It was known to be coming. Precautions had been taken. Warnings were heeded, and lives were saved. But even then, injury and death could not be prevented. The death toll by late Tuesday was 24 – fewer than half what early reports said, but nine of the lost were children.

Heart-breaking scenes and stories that were simultaneously heroic and sad were many. The tornado struck two elementary schools.

One man spoke tearfully of children found alive under the rubble, sheltered by a teacher. “I don’t know what that lady’s name is,” he told KFOR-TV, “but she had three little kids underneath her. Good job, teach.”

Many, many families survived in underground shelters, but they emerged to find they had lost everything. A child’s toys, the markers and mementos of growing up. Family scrapbooks with one-of-a-kind pictures. Keepsakes of priceless value because of what they meant to a child or a grandchild.

North Carolinians will rally round these families, as they always do. Our residents have memories of hurricanes and tornadoes that wreaked havoc in this state, and they know how people from around the country rallied to support them. They remember the packages of supplies, the contributions, the moral support.

Little good comes from something that leaves behind this kind of death and destruction and sadness. But as Americans hear those recordings of frantic calls for help and see again and again the residents of an Oklahoma community turning away from the cameras because they just can’t take it anymore, a spirit will rise. That unmistakably American spirit will prompt people from around the country to go to Oklahoma in body and in thought.

When this type of tragedy strikes, no victim need stand alone. Single, married, with children or without, all victims are members in that American family.

The recovery will not be swift. How could anyone reconstruct a life entirely changed? Some will do better than others. For some, this tornado sadly will become the defining moment of their lives.

A sympathetic nation will do its best. President Obama was quick to declare a federal emergency and, with that, help will come. Top state officials were on the ground quickly. Emergency personnel were combing the rubble.

Oklahoma City is part of a state of hardy, tough, determined people, some of whom are descendants of the courageous souls who coaxed cities and towns and small communities out of a wide-open place.

Many of their families now will summon that ancestral courage to help themselves and their neighbors come back from the wrath of nature. Tough days are ahead, but many hands are reaching out.

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