Pain and progress in Oklahoma, one year after tornado

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by TERESA WOODARD / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 7:46 AM

MOORE, Oklahoma — They can all remember where they were. They can all recall the fear. None of them like to talk about it.

On May 20, 2013, a catastrophic tornado touched down in Moore and spent about 40 minutes cutting a wide path of destruction. More than 1,100 homes were destroyed, along with two schools.

Twenty-four people were killed.

The one year anniversary brought all the pain, fear, and grief back.

"Shows how far we've come — from getting up one morning, with a daily routine, getting the kids to school — to nine hours later having nothing," said Sera Hill, a mom who lost everything that day.

In reality, it's obvious the pain never really leaves their minds.

"We all walked out of it and we have each other," Hill said.

She had one son at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit. She didn't know if he had survived until hours later.

Another son was home sick that day.

"Lucky he did stay home, because his grade lost a few students," she said.

On Tuesday, Hill's son — who is in kindergarten at Briarwood Elementary (which was also destroyed) — got to go with his class to the new campus for a picnic and a party. Students walked from the church where they've been having classes this year.

They walked past a neighborhood that's under construction. It's great to see the growth. But that won't erase the grief.

"There's still a lot of healing to do," said Shelley McMullin, whose daughter was inside Briarwood when the storm hit. "The wind blows and our kids freak out. It rains and our kids freak out, just the slightest thing. And that's something we can't take away, we can't help with that."

In a neighborhood near Plaza Towers, homes are springing up — including one that belongs to Bob and Theta Best.

They rebuilt at Southwest 14th Street and Santa Fe, the same corner where they spent the last 35 years of a 60-year marriage. But they are wondering if they made the right move.

"It's hard to sleep at night," Bob said. He spent 24 years in the Air Force and another 20 in the Moore and Oklahoma City fire departments.

He and his wife said dealing with insurance was a nightmare, and they miss their neighbors.

"The only one moving back is Christine over here," he said, pointing to a home a few lots away. "Everyone's gone that we really knew."

"And they're not coming back," Theta added. "It's not home to me. It's just the way I feel."

The schools are being rebuilt with storm shelters, and most of the homes are, too. The city of Moore estimates about half the homes that were lost are either completed or are under construction now.

But that means about half the families have moved — either to new neighborhoods or a new city.

That's something McMullin doesn't understand. She's lived in Moore for all of her 31 years. And she's not going away.

"To me, it's home. There's nothing that can change it," she said. "No matter how many tornadoes, nothing can change that. I will always rebuild. I will always live here. I have my friends, my family. Nothing can ever take that away. Nothing."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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