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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tragic Alley

As I sit here, a whole mess of states between me and home, "Cinderella" is playing in the background. So much has passed that it seems odd that I'm even here.

I've written some on Twitter and some on Facebook, little tidbits about traveling across country. Since the new tornadoes in Oklahoma, I've been asked more about what I saw. I thought, now, a week or so since everything happened, I could sit down and be able to write about it better. Now, I don't know.

One of the first things I saw was a motorcyclist, somewhere after crossing the Arizona border on Interstate 40. He had a handwritten sign that read, "Okla or Bust", a red "Search & Rescue" helmet bobbed behind him. Several times, I wanted to stop the guy and buy his gas, but I didn't want to get in his way or slow him down.

My family lives close to the site, scarily close. My cousin and her family live only 3 miles from the edge of the path. My father and his family another few miles north from where it started. Luckily, the majority were in Tennessee for graduations so none were hurt.

Between rest stops, bathroom breaks for Tater, and figuring out how to get her to eat while on the road, I hadn't thought much about it, other than I might come close to it when passing through. Honestly, I thought it might be like when we were kids, traveling through Florida, years after a hurricane had come through, the trees still bent in odd shapes, but all in the same direction, random bricks with peeling paint scattered on the ground, but mostly things were back to normal.

This is surprising for some to believe because I grew up in the middle of Tornado Alley. While I have been under a tornado (story to follow), I've never really seen tornado damage up close. I've always seen it the way everyone else has - newspapers, TV newscasts, books, etc. In fact, as a child I was absolutely fascinated by natural disasters. I had books that detailed horrible hurricanes and volcanic destruction. The pictures I would go back over and over were the ones were the lava would keep rolling through the towns and there were warning signs to let people know not to step on it because it would melt their sneakers.

So, on the night of May 22, 2013, I rolled into Oklahoma City. I was making my way through the spaghetti maze of highways as I was nearing my cousin's house. My GPS lady was yelling out directions like I was a petulant 16-year-old that simply wasn't listening. All of a sudden  my husband called. We talk for a few minutes until I realized I missed an important exit. When I let Lady GPS begrudgingly reroute me, I thought I would be right back on track - exit, U-turn, then head towards the missed exit. 

Instead, Lady GPS sent me through some nefarious sections of the city. She would lead me down these long darkened stretches, sandbags on the sidewalks and abandoned cars nearby. By the end, I was right in front of a road block. The first time was a simple mistake. The second time, a problem with rerouting, I figured. After the third and fourth times, I thought she surely was punishing me. Finally, I went a different direction with her yelling the whole way until she popped a Xanax, calmed down, and found a new way to go. 

As I got back onto the freeway, I noticed how lovely and bright everything was. In some cases, my peripheral vision took it to be daylight. Within a few moments, that all disappeared and I was plunged into a thick inkiness. My headlights only struck the road and the blackness seemed to envelope me.

As I passed a wall, light burst through. Webs of lumber, crushed and tangled into unnatural shapes, spun and warped like metal. I didn't understand what I was seeing, but just as quickly I did. The sorrow and sadness and loneliness and frightenness was filing the air and my lungs and filtering all through out me. It was as if in that one second I could feel everything they felt and it was overwhelming and exhausting, and I was sobbing.

I wiped my eyes and tried to find the road again, the lines that were left, the headlights that rode beside me, the wreckage of lives behind me. I made my way to my cousin's house, just seconds away, understanding now how closely it had come to removing everything she knew and had.




While we talked about it a bit that night, we spent more time catching up. The next morning, I left on a road that should have been going up at a clip of 60-70 mph. Instead, everyone had nearly stopped, crawling at 10 mph. 





Just outside of Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013 - three days after the Moore Tornado

Last exit before destruction area of Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013. Exiting here meant driving around the tornado's path, which was at least one mile wide and 17 miles long.

Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013


Water tower in Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013

Allstate's Catastrophe Response Team Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013. To the left is the area that wasn't touched. However, the Panda Express was one of the buildings at the edge of the disaster.

Allstate's Catastrophe Response Team Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013. To the left is the area that wasn't touched. However, the Panda Express was one of the buildings at the edge of the disaster. (better view) The mall that was destroyed is next door.





The mall in Moore, OK, on May 23, 2013. This angle is from the opposite direction, down in the destruction.


This isn't my photo, but I saw something very similar. It was a highway guardrail that had wrapped around the top of a tree, making it look like it was done on purpose.

People walking into the mall's disaster site to help.



The church parking lots were filled with makeshifts tents, underneath first aid kits, food, and water, always water. There were a few orange vested men on the side of the road, picking up random trash, adjusting their hats and wiping their brows. I rode beside several insurance trucks, their signals turning off at the last exit left open to Moore.




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