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Close-Knit Okla. Community Meets Tornado Aftermath With Resilience

May 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The day before the monster tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., a rural area of the state was hit by a twister that leveled most homes in the area. Oklahoma Education Television correspondent Bob Sands reports on the resilience of the community in Lincoln County, as families, friends and strangers work together to recuperate.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the aftermath of the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Funeral services were held today for two of the 24 people who were killed in Moore on Monday, including a boy who died at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. The governor also said today that she had signed a bill authorizing $45 million dollars in state aid for devastated communities.

The day before the tornado flattened Moore, a less powerful twister leveled homes in rural Lincoln County, something that happens frequently in April and May in Oklahoma. In Shawnee, two people died when a mobile home park was wiped out. And the towns of Fallis and Carney were also hit hard. Residents in that area are now cleaning up.

Our colleagues at Oklahoma Educational Television have been following their story.

And correspondent Bob Sands reports on the resilience of the community.

BOB SANDS, Oklahoma Educational Television: Nearly every home in Fallis suffered some sort of damage from the Sunday tornado. While attention is focused on the relief effort in Moore, those who live in the rural Lincoln County community are finding help from family, friends and in many cases total strangers.

David and Cheryl Warrick’s home suffered damage, and their property is a mess. They have had lots of help cleaning it up.

CHERYL WARRICK, Tornado Survivor: This is a real close-knit area and there’s been tons of people up and down the road offering help and bringing water, offering food.

BOB SANDS: Just down the road, the tornado destroyed Allen and Becky Buchanan’s home of 13 years, along with all their other buildings on their property. Like it did for the Warricks, help came quickly.

MAN: Oh, a bunch of help.

BECKY BUCHANAN, Tornado Survivor: Oh, my God. Our phones, we — just ringing off the hook, I mean, voice-mails, e-mails. I mean, it’s almost impossible to even answer the phone.

MAN: There’s actually some guys out there now cleaning up the shop.

BECKY BUCHANAN: Yes. Yes, we don’t even know who they are. Who is that?

BOB SANDS: That guy is Jason Shaffer, who lives a couple of miles from the Buchanans.

JASON SHAFFER, Volunteer: They needed help. That’s just what us country boys do, I guess.

BOB SANDS: Shaffer says the tornado just missed his home, so he felt the need to help those the storm didn’t miss. And he expects nothing in return for his help.

JASON SHAFFER: Give glory to God. That’s all we have got to do. Going to do what we can clean this mess up.

BOB SANDS: Health care even showed up in the form of the Lincoln County Health Department, ready with tetanus shots. And that included Jason. Standing in what was left of the Buchanan kitchen, the family remains thankful for what they do have and where they live.

BECKY BUCHANAN: I’m glad to be an Oklahoman today, even though that you know one day it’s hot, one day it’s cold, one day it’s, well, tornado weather.

BOB SANDS: A few miles away in the Carney Senior Center, the Red Cross has set up operations. A small army of volunteers is serving three meals a day. Volunteers are smoking burgers, hot dogs and slabs of pork with all the fixings.

CRAIG BUCHANAN, Site Director, Carney Red Cross: A lot of the people you see out here are workers that have come out, as well as the people that have been affected by this particular disaster.

BOB SANDS: Craig Buchanan is the site director of the Carney Red Cross relief effort. He says it’s another example of Oklahomans helping Oklahomans.

CRAIG BUCHANAN: Community outpouring has just been amazing, the amount of people that are helping each other, the churches groups, the Kiwanis, all the other spontaneous volunteers.

BOB SANDS: On a normal day, John Arnold runs an outdoor advertising company. But he’s found a new purpose for some of that billboard material.

JOHN ARNOLD, Owner, Arnold Outdoor: I went to my shop. I loaded up a bunch of vinyls that came off billboards, which make heavy-duty tarps.

BOB SANDS: With all the roof damage in Fallis, Carney and other areas, Arnold knew those vinyls would come in handy, so after that first load, he went back for more.

JOHN ARNOLD: A guy asked me if I could bring up another load back up today, so I went to the shop, loaded them up. I have got about 30 or 35 out in the truck. It makes me be proud to be from Oklahoma, to be a part of this spirit.

BOB SANDS: The Sunday tornado nearly destroyed the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park near Shawnee. Two lives were lost, and many people were injured.

Faron Davis runs D&D Truck Sales and Service in Oklahoma City. But on this day, he is the primary supplier of hot meals to those who remain in the park and the people cleaning up.

FARON DAVIS, Owner, D&D Truck Sales and Service: It missed our business by a mile, missed our farm by a mile, so we thought we better go take care of everybody else.

BOB SANDS: And Davis is passing out more than just hot meals.

FARON DAVIS: We try to give them a little money if we know it tore their house down, where they can go get them a room, or we try to give them a $100 bill if their house is down. And maybe they can get a good meal, a room or something out of the deal.

BOB SANDS: There is still a sense of hope in Steelman Estates, a sense bolstered by the discovery of a survivor that spent three days under the debris. Michelle Hoke found him as she searched the wreckage of her home.

MICHELLE HOKE, Found Dog: I went to go reach for something and I saw fur. I moved something else, and all of a sudden he moved, and I moved enough stuff and saw that it was my neighbor’s dog, yelled for help, and we got him out.

BOB SANDS: Saber had several injuries. You could see the stress of being buried on his face. He was dirty and very thirsty.

From the smoker, Faron sent over some of his grilled hamburgers, Saber’s first food in three days.

WOMAN: Oh, hey. Yay, he’s eating.

BOB SANDS: Nearby, another family was going through the ruins of their home, as two young boys waited anxiously to see what they would find. For Caleb, the day got much better with the discovery of his baseball bag.

BOB SANDS: As in many places across Oklahoma, there was spontaneous prayer, reaching out for the strength to keep going forward.