Anyone who was around here on Aug. 13, 2004, can easily empathize with the feelings of loss and disorientation experienced this week in Moore, Okla. We also recognize the challenges that lay ahead for residents as they try to rebuild their lives and their community.
Again, sadly, we’ve seen a city reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes by the extreme forces of nature. As of Thursday, the official death toll from the ferocious Oklahoma tornado was at 24 people, with a handful of others still missing. Another 240 or so were reportedly injured. Some 12,000 to 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Two schools and a hospital were flattened. Monetary damage was estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. Some 33,000 people were affected in some way by the storm, according to news sources.
What seems remarkable — given the extraordinary destruction — is that even more people weren’t killed or injured. Entire suburban housing tracts were demolished; cars and tankers were whipped through the air and left in heaps. The winds, recorded above 200 mph, had enough force to strip bark from trees. The power of the storm was frightening.
Try to keep that in mind as we enter hurricane season in Florida. The Oklahoma City area is Tornado Alley; residents are familiar with twisters. While fewer than 3 percent of the homes in the county have storm cellars, residents have been trained by experience to pay close attention to the early-warning alerts and act wisely. Whether an individual’s response was a simple as wearing a bicycle helmet or huddling in a bathtub, the defensive actions undoubtedly saved lives.
Thankfully, we have a lot more warning about approaching storms here. Forecasters watch hurricanes cross the Atlantic and the Caribbean, cut across the Florida peninsula or rumble up the coasts and often threaten us here in Central Florida.
We can heed the warnings and prepare. We can try to make our homes hurricane-resistant. We can follow the warnings of emergency operations officials and get out of storm surge areas. We can plan to take shelter in storm shelters or evacuate as early as possible. We should remember the potential consequences if we don’t take big storms seriously.
Those in our area who lived through the intense devastation of Hurricane Charley in 2004 also realize how much affected communities rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers as they struggle to rebuild. It can be done — we’ve seen that in Lake Wales, Bartow and other communities in Polk County — but it takes a monumental amount of work and money.
We can help a little. One of the easiest ways is by donating to disaster relief efforts. The American Red Cross is a good place to start. Go to the website, www.redcross.org, or call 1-800-REDCROSS.
We know how much it matters.