Scarcely more than a week ago, ominous tornado activity was reported bearing down on Oklahoma City – rapidly. Within 20 minutes or so, a massive twister grabbed hold of the ground surface and tore across Moore – on Oklahoma City’s south side – and chewed up everything in its path.
The damage was wide and lengthy, with thousands and thousands of people living, working and attending school in its path. Tragically, 24 children and adults perished, but by nearly every account, residents heeded warnings to get underground or seek shelter if at all possible. The death toll could have been significantly higher.
Ironically, the community of Moore had been through this just four years earlier, when another devastating tornado struck the town.
We who have lived in the Midwest refer to the region as a “tornado alley.” In the late spring, atmospheric conditions prompt tornado activity. No state has experienced more tornadoes or more severe twisters it seems than Oklahoma.
Many of us sat glued to newscasts as journalists not only chronicled the damage, the loss and the response but pieced together profiles of most of the victims, including children who perished when their school was flattened and those who survived, many of them as a result of the heroics of their teachers and other school staffers.
Just a few days later, the community of Joplin, Mo., marked the second anniversary of the twister that killed more than 150 people. The Moore and Joplin tornado attacks were remarkably similar. Limited warning. People finding shelter any way they could. Homes and businesses flattened. Hospitals destroyed.
The southwestern community of Joplin drew the attention of the world. Volunteers and resources flooded into the town, and some of those volunteers remain. Lost houses are still being replaced. The city vowed within days of the catastrophe to come back stronger than before.
Some replacement buildings, including hospitals and schools, were relocated when rebuilt to make sure they were spaced more strategically in case a similar tornado touches down in the future.
Some of the beneficiaries of help in Joplin have already made themselves available for cleanup and other volunteer tasks in Moore. Having received help themselves over the last two years, they are willing to give back out of their own experience and gratitude.
One has to believe that the citizens of Moore and the greater Oklahoma City area heeded these emergency warnings with greater urgency because of what the town had experienced four years ago and became of the experience of Joplin less than two years ago.
At our best, we learn from past experiences, especially traumatic ones.
In central Oklahoma, discussion is serious about constructing future homes with basements, storm shelters and safe rooms, and adding more storm shelters in the community. Future schools will be constructed with storm shelters or safe rooms built into the plans. No one wants to see the bodies of young children pulled from the rubble of a school again.
By the way, churches must do the same. They are traditionally regarded as structures where people find sanctuary. There is no reason a congregation’s ministry to its community should not include safety not only in the storms of life but the literal storms that sometimes devastate communities.
Godspeed to the people of Moore and the surrounding area, and Godspeed to the folks in places like Joplin and elsewhere who know that you don’t rebuild a community alone or overnight.
God bless all the outsiders who will choose with funds or voluntarism to ally themselves with places like these.