Professor Helps Tornado Victims
Dwight Moore was part of the American Red Cross effort to help tornado victims in Oklahoma and nearly ended up a victim himself.
The Emporia State University biology professor went to Moore, Okla., as part of a Red Cross team to help victims of a killer tornado that slammed that city on May 20, 2013. He arrived on May 25 and then found himself taking cover on May 31 when another twister was spotted about a quarter-mile from where Moore and two other volunteers were having dinner at Zio’s Italian restaurant.
An enjoyable meal was interrupted by his cell phone message reporting a tornado warning. The Zio’s manager told everyone they could take cover in the cooler of the restaurant if needed and it seemed to Moore safer than trying to race back to the hotel.
“I looked around the cafe and noticed the I-beams, so I thought there would be a high probability we would be safe in there,” he said.
Suddenly the power went off and tornado sirens blared out. Nine customers huddled with employees in the cooler and waited.
“We were in there about 30 minutes at first,” said Moore. “During that time, we heard a pretty loud wind and hail hitting the roof.”
For Moore, perhaps his scientific nature taking over, panic never set in.
“I had never been in a tornado before, so mainly I was thinking this would be a good experience to see and hear what it is like. I never was too worried because from stories that I have heard we were in a fairly safe place.”
The twister was a multi-vortex and blew off part of the restaurant’s roof and left several telephone poles snapped off. Overall, the ordeal lasted about 90 minutes as Moore and the others were in and out of the cooler as the sirens came off and on. The giant El Reno multi-vortex tornado that struck that same evening was the largest tornado ever documented and was only about 30 miles from the restaurant.
The original reason for him being there — The Moore tornado of May 20 — was an EF5, the strongest type of tornado, with winds between 200 and 210 miles per hour. It slammed the city of about 56,000 people on that Monday afternoon and residents had about a 30-minute of warning.
Twenty-four people, including nine children were killed, while 377 others were injured. About 12,000 homes were hit and an estimated 1,200 were demolished. The tornado traveled about 34 miles-per-hour and at its peak width was equal to 19 football fields lined up end-to-end.
Moore had packed up and headed to Oklahoma on May 25, 2013 arriving at the temporary American Red Cross headquarters in nearby Shawnee, Okla., for initial instructions. The operation later had to move to Norman, Okla., where he stayed until he checked out and returned home on June 7, 2013.
The destruction he found was immense but the people for the most part were resolute.
“Most of the people were optimistic that they would recover in time,” said Moore. Most expressed a desire to either rebuild or find other places to live in the same area. Very few expressed a desire to move out of the area.
“Of course people were sad about the loss of their homes and possessions, but thankful they or their family and friends had not been injured,” he added. “There were several deaths as the result of the tornadoes and the number of children who died at the Plaza Towers School was a very sobering reminder to everybody.
“I spent many moments close to tears as I listened to people tell their story about the day that the tornado struck and its effect on their lives.”
Moore’s primary duty was data entry of American Red Cross (ARC) forms that victims had to fill out with information about how they were affected and the degree of damages. People with homes destroyed or damaged were eligible for financial assistance. All information was entered into a “Client Assistance System” that allowed tracking of how people were helped and for follow up.
“Our goal was to have the data entered and the card activated within 24 hours of the family being interviewed by the ARC,” said Moore.
A typical day for Moore began with a brief orientation at 7:30 a.m., and operations were generally closed at 7 p.m. A couple of exceptions were early closings because of more tornado watches.
Several locations in the area were filled, besides with all the ARC volunteers, by helping organizations of all types of faiths and services as part of the Multi Agency Resources Centers. Not only were donations important for those that lost housing, clothing, transportation, and food, emotional comfort was vital, too. The ARC had client caseworkers and mental health counselors available.
“People were also in need of emotional help to deal with the loss and especially if somebody in the household was injured or killed by the tornadoes,” pointed out Moore.
Volunteers from all over the country helped out with debris removal and cleanup.
This was not Moore’s first tornado relief effort. He was at the site of the Reading and Harveyville disaster responses in Kansas during 2011 and 2012, respectively. These were smaller efforts and he had several different responsibilities during those efforts. More than 1,000 ARC volunteers responded in Oklahoma and Moore had two different tasks during his time there.
Having three tornado disaster relief efforts under his belt now, it is ironic that the only tornado Moore has actually witnessed was in the Bahamas.
Of course, Moore is a huge advocate of volunteering in general and the American Red Cross specifically. He hopes to inspire more people to volunteer.
“In March 2008, I officially became a volunteer in Disaster Services,” he recalled. “Initially, I was trained to respond to house fires and meet with people who had been displaced by the fire and needed some assistance to get through the first few days after the fire. I still do that as part of the Disaster Action Team for Osage and Coffey counties, though, fortunately, I do not get very many calls.”
Moore has found his experiences to be fulfilling and believes others can, too.
“I would say that they would find the experience very rewarding. Most volunteers in disaster relief respond locally providing assistance to people affected by house fires and local flooding. Typically volunteers take calls for a week at a time and agree to respond whenever they are called. A typical response call may take about 2 hours including travel time.”
People interested in becoming a disaster services volunteer, said Moore, can do so by contacting Debra Tucker, the volunteer coordinator for the Kansas Capital Area in Topeka, Kan. The local chapter covers 16 counties including Lyon County. Tucker’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone number is 785-230-2333. To become a ARC volunteer a person must complete a background check and complete some training all of which is free.