Though it’s a good four hours drive from Pratt, Moore, Oklahoma and other areas impacted by yesterday’s EF4 tornado are likely not too far removed from the hearts of people in this area. May tornadoes happen all too frequently on the Great Plains, and we know what the aftermath will be like: it won’t be easy. Moore has already been down this road.
May and tornados are like February and cold in Kansas. We may not like it much, but we have to brace ourselves anyway when storms threaten (or, in February, insulate ourselves). We readily empathize with others who experience a tornado because we know it could have been us. We count our blessings that we still have a place to live with our loved ones beside us.
May 7, 2002 is one date etched into our memories locally. Not quite a year after our family had moved to Pratt a tornado skipped around the west side of town and took out several houses southeast of town. Fortunately, the damage was not as widespread that wrought by recent tornadoes.
Of course, May 4, 2007 has a permanent place in Kansas history. I was employed full time in Greensburg when an EF5 tornado struck town (I was at home in Pratt that night). Because of my experience in dealing with the aftermath of the Greensburg tornado, it is easy to form mental images of what life on the ground is like right now in Moore. Many others from Pratt who volunteered following the tornado likely also have of an understanding of what the residents of Moore are facing. That volunteerism of so many not only from Pratt but also from surrounding communities like Haviland, Mullinville, Coldwater, and Kinsley, to name a few, revealed how people are generally ready and willing to lend a hand to a neighbor in need.
Tragedy unites us and often brings out the best in us. We don’t have community barn raisings much anymore, but, unfortunately, we do have natural disasters that serve the same purpose of bringing people together for a common good.
That is what is already happening in Moore, as volunteers from surrounding communities—and even from non-impacted areas of Moore—are there, helping where needed.
For most of us, a natural disaster always concerns individuals. Is our friend or relative okay? Are they safe? That’s how it was for me with Greensburg. I still recall the relief I felt upon learning that co-workers and others I assisted in my work at the mental health center had survived. What a feeling of joy it was to see each one at the Haviland shelter, or elsewhere, following the tornado.
I was relieved today to discover that one of my relatives, my cousin Larry Case and his wife, Rita, made it through the tornado unscathed. Larry’s home is in southwest Oklahoma City. He offered a short reply to my e-mail the day after the Moore tornado: “We're ok... it missed us by 1 mile. Just now got electricity. No TV or Internet so doing this by cell phone.”
That’s the news that everyone hopes to hear when natural disasters cross the paths of our friends and family.