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‘We’re gobsmacked by the enormity’

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Moore, Okla., residents walk through a tornado-ravaged neighborhood on Tuesday. A huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds.

By Mary McLachlin
Special to the Herald

Monday

Forty years of hurricanes, fires, murders and most other types of mayhem made me think I had a pretty hard shell. But it crumbled like a wet cookie today. This thing was epic and tragic and won’t let us turn it off or turn away.

Today was our third day of being under tornado watch or warning, thanks to three weather factors converging – a “dry line” of air moving in from the west, a cold front coming down from the north and a mass of warm, wet air being sucked up from the south. The perfect storm scenario, and it created a monster, an EF-4, or possibly 5, that came up the usual “tornado alley” path from the southwest, aiming at the Oklahoma City metro area.

We never know just where they will cut to the east, but Moore – wide and flat – seems to be the preferred path. Moore is in Cleveland County, along with Norman, and both are suburbs of Oklahoma City.

The funnel crossed Interstate 35 five miles north of us and turned into a “grinder,” slow-moving and hugging the ground, chewing up everything it crossed for 20 miles. It was half to 2 miles wide at various times, spewing debris for miles around the core.

The medical examiner’s office said tonight it had confirmed 51 dead, with many more expected to be found. Police, fire and sheriff’s departments, the National Guard and all manner of volunteers are digging through the wreckage all night, especially the flattened schools, with sniffer dogs, trying to reach any kids or teachers still alive.

I’m going to bed now and have a long cry.

Tuesday

I’m happy to report that the horrifying death totals we heard yesterday turned out to be wrong. Astonishing what you can be grateful for. The medical examiner’s office said today it could confirm 24 deaths, not the 51 originally reported, let alone the 91 that came out late last night from some erroneous news source.

Rescue and recovery efforts have been a mess today, with thunderstorms pounding the area for hours. The storms moved out around 3 p.m., and police began letting people back in to the worst-hit neighborhoods to see if they can find any personal things to salvage before the bulldozers – already lined up – go in to start clearing the wreckage.

We’re just gobsmacked by the enormity of it all, watching every level of government, from the White House down to city and county commissions, plus churches, nonprofits and thousands of volunteers try to get a grip on it.

Where do hundreds of suddenly homeless families go? Monday they were ordinary middle-class folks with houses, yards, jobs, kids and cars; today they’re refugees. And all the rest of us know how easily we could be in their place.

Mary McLachlin enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a journalist in Florida before moving west. She lives in Vallecito during the summer and spends winters in Oklahoma City. When she’s in this area, she serves as a writing coach for The Durango Herald reporters.

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