House after house was rubble in a matter of minutes Monday afternoon in Moore, Oklahoma, near Oklahoma City. At least 24 people had been killed, and in viewing aerial photographs of the region, that seemed a miracle of sorts, a miracle that the death toll was not much, much higher.
Now, The New York Times underlines that fact with a report that incredibly, in “tornado alley,” building standards are lax, and safe rooms or underground cellars, places where people can protect themselves when word of an approaching tornado comes, are rare. The Times notes that though the city of Moore recommends such places, only 10 percent of homes in Moore have them. And many homes aren’t even anchored to foundations with bolted plates that provide much more protection against storms than the usual nails and pins.
It’s true that a direct hit from a tornado is going to cause damage, period. But at the least, communities vulnerable to such attacks ought to require and enforce standards that give people the best chance they can have. The reason for the resistance apparently is money. One builder in Oklahoma estimated the cost of a prefab sunken shelter would be $4,000, something that can make the difference with a potential buyer of being able to purchase a new home or not.
Federal help might be a possibility. Of course, in a sad irony, both of Oklahoma’s Republican U.S. senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have voted against federal disaster relief elsewhere. Whether the tragedy in Moore will change their view remains to be seen.
Towns and cities and counties sitting in these often-deadly alleys need to do more. To not strengthen building standards, to not demand shelters in homes and schools, may not be a guarantee against catastrophe. But in doing all they can, lives might be saved. Some of those in Moore might not have their homes, but they might be alive. That’s reason enough to act.