By Steve Ramos
Battered cars litter the Moore Medical Center‘s parking lot two weeks after an EF5 tornado pulverized Moore, Okla., on May 20. No one is in a hurry to claim the vehicles. What would be the point? With their crumpled bodies and shattered windows, they’re just part of the mounting pile of debris officials say would be a mile high if stacked in one place. Throughout the city’s ravaged neighborhoods, people sift through the rubble, hoping to find one more picture or memento before surrendering what is left of their homes and businesses to the crews who are hauling away the debris.
The tornado that cut through a 17-mile path was not only massive, it was erratic. The ruined hospital with its twisted roof and blown-out windows sits behind a building that houses a veteran‘s support center. It escaped the furious winds without any damage, but about 50 feet away, only parts of a couple of walls remain of what was a small restaurant. Three employees huddled in a closet and miraculously walked out unhurt. Across the street, however, the tornado leveled a 7-Eleven convenience store and killed the three people inside. The three radio towers that gave the name to Towers Elementary School where several adults and children died still loom over the destruction. And everywhere there are signs of a community pulling together.
The Moore Church of the Nazarene escaped destruction, although it’s only a couple of blocks away from the leveled areas. The church has become a center of organized frenzy as a steady stream of people drop off donations, which are just as quickly taken out by those who lost their homes. In the church’s parking lot, volunteers serve hamburgers and other fare, feeding about 1,800 people a day.
“You just wouldn’t believe how busy we are,” said Laura Sylvester, who heads the volunteers at the church. “Our inventory of donations has turned over many times. It leaves just as quickly as we get it.”
The volunteers work in a darkened building since the church’s power hasn’t been restored since the tornado. Using only the sunlight filtering in through the windows or flashlights, they stock the shelves that were built from lumber salvaged from destroyed buildings.
Moore County sent a truck-load of donations to Moore, and they were being carted away moments after they were unloaded. Sunray Co-Op donated a pallet of bottled water. Several cases were taken shortly after they were put on the ground.
“Oh, you brought baby formula!” Sylvester said. “We really need that. A lady came in just this morning and took all we had. Their day care was destroyed, and they really need formula and baby food.”
Panhandle Community Services donated those baby items, along with diapers and other products, and The Refuge contributed food and clothing. In every room of the church, including the sanctuary, donations moved in and out, and no one had to explain his or her need.
“You can tell some people are so embarrassed to have to come and ask for these things,” Sylvester said. “It’s so heartbreaking. One lady was almost unable to speak because I guess she was still in shock over losing everything. Her whole house is gone.”
In the parking lot, young volunteers from Bastrop, Texas, flip an assembly line of burgers. One of them, Jason Bray, said he could relate to the disaster after surviving an EF4 tornado that hit Bastrop in 1997.
“We felt we needed to come and help out,” he said. “It’s really humbling when you think about how you’ve been spared, and you realize that when you have been spared then you should always help others.”
Sylvester said they’re still in need of donations, especially a large outdoor container to keep them. The need became greater after several tornadoes again took aim on Moore and Oklahoma City on June 1.
“There are several places in Moore that are serving as donation centers and where people can get a meal,” she said. “We’re working together, but the need is so great. So many people lost absolutely everything. While they’re cleaning up their neighborhoods, they need food and clothing. They need basic things.”
In the church’s parking lot, the steeple lies on its side near the church’s blown-out sign.
“We’re strong here, and we’re going to recover,” Sylvester said. “We’re working together to rebuild our city, but it sure is nice to see people like you drive up and help. Please tell the people in Moore County we’re mighty grateful.”