Responding to the Oklahoma Tornadoes

Tracy - headshot - June 2010 - croppedTracy Geoghegan, Save the Children Staff

Moore, Oklahoma

May 23, 2013

I’ve been here
since the day after the monster tornado devastated many parts of this city. Hundreds
of families are homeless and thousands are in need. I’ve been visiting the
shelters talking with parents and children who have lost everything.

“I feel like I just
came out of a daze and realized I’m homeless,” a mom named Kristi told me.
The tornado collapsed the roof to Kristi’s apartment building, and then it
poured the next day. Her family has lost everything. “So many things go
through your mind. You reach for a toothbrush and you don’t have it. You reach
for a comb and you don’t have it. You think, how am I going to pay the bills?
How am I going to get mail? There’s nothing left.”
Oklahoma Tornado Photo Credit: Justin Clemons/Getty Images for Save the Children

Kristi’s 3-year-old
daughter Peyten misses her stuffed rabbit. “I wish I could go home,” she

“She doesn’t have
anything to play with,” says her mom.

Peyten’s 13-year-old brother
Jhaunel likes to play video games and go outside and play basketball. He can’t do
those things now because he lost his games and he doesn’t have a ball.

People here
are amazingly strong and positive despite all they’ve been through. I’ve seen
countless families whose homes were destroyed and who are facing futures full
of uncertainty. They say they’re just grateful to be alive. They don’t cry.
They rarely complain. But one thing I hear repeatedly from parents is that
their kids don’t have enough to do – they need activities to keep them busy and

The Save the
Children team here has responded to every major disaster since Hurricane Katrina.
Most recently we have been helping families affected by Hurricane Sandy and the
horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Our experts
know that what children need most after their lives have been upended is a
return to normalcy.

Today we’ll
set up our first “child-friendly space” in a shelter here. This will be an
oasis of calm and fun activities for the children. It’ll also give overstressed
parents a break so they can start putting their lives back together. Our staff
will use play activities to help the children heal their emotional wounds. When
children have been through a traumatic experience, we know it’s very important to
give them a way to express what’s inside them. It may be fear. It may be anger.
Every child is different, but they all need to play and laugh again in a safe
environment. This will be an important first step for the children of Moore,
and we are eager to provide this for every child in Moore who needs help on the
road to recovery.

Please support our work to help children and the community impacted by the tornado. Click here to donate online or text TWISTER to 20222 to donate $10 to help the response effort. Standard rates apply.


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Destruction in Joplin

JOPLIN_TORNADO___11_89015 Ali Hochreiter Operations Specialist, Domestic Emergencies Unit, Save the Children USA   

Joplin, Missouri

June 7, 2011

If it had been 6:02 p.m., on a weekday rather than Sunday evening when the Joplin tornado hit, most of the 94 children who attend Creative Kids Academy would have been in the classrooms, waiting on their parents to pick them up. By 6:30 that night, the two buildings and playground that made up Courtney Grover’s child care business were nothing but rubble, one more pile of wood and twisted metal in a seven-mile stretch of destruction that left one lot indistinguishable from the next.

JOPLIN_TORNADO___2_88997Ali Hochreiter (left) of Save the Children speaks with owner Courtney Grover of Creative Kids Daycare Center that was destroyed in Joplin, Missouri. Photo by Bruce Stidham

I’d arrived in Joplin with the goal of assessing needs for families, equipped with names of nine child care centers that served more than 400 children and had reportedly been severely damaged. It was immediately clear that my list of addresses was almost worthless since streets were barely visible, and there were no signs to direct me anyway. I had my nose buried in my blackberry, following a dot on the digital map in the hopes it would pinpoint me in one of the blocks when I realized I was standing in a pile of children’s toys: an oversized ladybug, plastic building blocks, a brightly colored gate. As far as I could see in all directions, it was more of the same — piles of wood, eerily faceless homes open like dollhouses, clothing quietly swinging in the closet, beds hanging off the second story; a kitchen standing in the middle of a ripped-open house, cabinet doors gone but breakfast cereal lined up neatly on the shelves.

JOPLIN_TORNADO___19_89031 2-year-old Braden of Joplin, Missouri sleeps in a Red Cross shelter after the May 22nd tornado destroted his home. Braden and his grandmother survived by staying in their basment during the F-5 tornado. Photo: Bruce E Stidham

Although I’d seen disaster sites before, I was struck by how complete the destruction was within the path of the storm, and how alarmingly clean the edges were, with one house gone and the next one over suffering only minor damage.  I could not imagine how anyone had survived a direct hit and what the aftermath of the tornado must have been like as people dug themselves out and tried to account for neighbors. One family of three staying at the shelter survived by huddling in the bathtub as the house blew away around them, the parents shielding their little girl. They told me she’d been having trouble sleeping ever since.  Standing in the ruins of a child care center that was so fortunately empty when the tornado struck, I had to stop myself from thinking about what might have happened there on another night, and could only hope rebuilding efforts will take into account the mitigation and safety standards that will protect lives in the future.


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