By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
MOORE — Driving down 19th Street in Moore, people who have never visited the city may have a hard time seeing how much the city has changed in the last six months. From the I-35 exit going south, thriving businesses can be seen.
Even as you make a right turn onto Eagle Drive, several houses were left untouched as was the church, which sits on the corner.
But, as you drive deeper into the neighborhood, the brutal reality hits like a punch in the face. The ground where Plaza Elementary School once stood is now barren land. That is, except for a row of crosses outside a construction fence to memorialize the seven school children who were killed as they waited unsuspectingly for a storm to pass.
The crosses, which have photos, teddy bears, toys and trinkets attached to them, are a reminder of what was lost that fateful May 20th afternoon when the city of Moore was changed forever by an EF-5 tornado that paved a path of destruction from one end of the city to the other.
“I think that it puts things in perspective,” Jeff Brickman said. “Unfortunately, you tend to forget those things after a couple of weeks. Every once in a while I will think back to that day and it kind of helps put things in perspective. About what’s really important and what’s not.”
At 3:01 p.m. May 20, a tornado emergency was issued for Moore and south Oklahoma City. Within minutes, the tornado sliced its way through Moore leaving 24 dead and at least $2 billion in damage. Thirty-five minutes later, the tornado dissipated at 3:36 p.m. over Lake Stanley Draper.
In the days that followed, help from around the globe flowed into Moore. Whether it was to rebuild infrastructure, house residents who lost their homes or provide food and comfort, the outpouring of support was impactful.
That was six months ago. Most of the helpers have gone back to their own homes in their own cities as Moore still continues the recovery process everyday.
One of the hardest hit spots in the city was Plaza Towers. The day after the tornado hit, it looked like a bomb had exploded as rubble was everywhere. It was almost impossible for residents to tell where their houses began and their neighbors ended.
Today, that is not a problem. The collapsed homes have been removed and construction crews fill the streets.
The same goes for the neighborhood surrounding Briarwood Elementary School. Like Plaza Towers, construction as already began on the school. But many of the homes were so ravaged they had to be destroyed.
Southmoore student Brandon Dicks used to live in one of those houses with his family. He was at school the day the tornado hit. While his family lost their house and most of their possessions, six months later they have moved on.
“We didn’t move too far from where the actual house was,” Dicks said. “We live behind the school now. It’s a really nice house. Everything is real smooth and great. Got everything lined up and straight. Got our whole life back together, basically.”
However, Dicks knows they could not have done it alone.
“We had so much help and so many people who wanted to do anything for us,” Dicks said. “We had really good advance planning, too. All that just came together and got it done really quickly. We moved into the house before school started.”
Certain areas of the city have gotten back to a new normal. Businesses along 19th Street have either opened back up or are in the process of doing so. That doesn’t included the shopping center just north of Santa Fe, which has been torn down.
On the corner of Telephone Road and 4th Street used to stand a 7-Eleven. That is now vacant. As is the lot across the street where Van’s Pig Stand used to call home. The owners have relocated to 1999 Tower Drive and plan to reopen soon.
Also gone is Moore Medical Center. The entire structure at 700 S. Telephone Road has been demolished. All that is left are a few temporary portables.
The east side of Moore didn’t get the same national coverage as its west side counterparts after the tornado. But it was hit just as hard. That is especially true along Eastern Avenue and 4th Street.
However, the reconstruction doesn’t seem to be going at the same pace. While houses have been torn down, there are fewer construction crews out working to rebuild homes on the other side of I-35.
Several residents have chosen to just take their losses and move on after experiencing their second or third devastating tornado in the last two decades. Others vowed to stay where they are and rebuild.
“What I remember the most about those days was how everybody came together and were constantly willing to help you,” Dicks said. “The whole community. That was best thing. That was the coolest thing I think.”
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