Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Residents of Tornado-Struck Moore, Okla., Have Learned to Survive

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Residents of Tornado-Struck Moore, Okla., Have Learned to Survive

Article excerpt

The bottom line: Experience matters.

Survival in the face of a powerful tornado is never assured, but among residents of the town of Moore, at the historical epicenter of Oklahoma twisters and the site of the state's first recorded major tornado in the early 19th century, the sense is they're getting better at it.

On Wednesday officials in Moore exuded a sense of relief as the casualty toll from Monday's EF5 monster seemed to be cemented at 24, even though 2,500 homes were destroyed.

By comparison, in 1999, a time when the population density in the South Oklahoma City area was lower, an EF5 tornado destroyed 1,800 homes yet killed 40 people.

The damage total, meanwhile, crept toward $2 billion, according to the state's insurance commissioner.

Moore's role as a big tornado bull's eye has turned the Oklahoma City suburb into a unique place, a kind of laboratory of human survivability, residents say.

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"We're definitely getting better at surviving," says Moore resident Stephen Hall, who could style himself as a kind of tornado- escape Houdini given four brushes with twisters.

More heads-up warnings, less cries of wolf in the form of overused tornado sirens, more accurate storm tracks, and public awareness, caution, and action have certainly improved casualty rates from big tornadoes, perhaps especially in Moore, where many of those who rebuilt after 1999 installed storm shelters.

More broadly across the country, awareness of tornado precautions is so much better today that the mass casualties in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., in recent years are seen as anomalies.

But in the end, what appears ironically to have saved the most people in the May 20 tornado in Moore was ignoring the government's main piece of advice: Don't try to outrun an oncoming tornado.

Indeed, most people in the tract house neighborhood off Telephone Road, near the epicenter of destruction, simply left. Some drove out of the strike zone, others went to fast-food restaurants, whose walk- in coolers are nearly bombproof and bolted to the earth.

"Yeah, people just leave, that's what I do," says Todd Smith, whose home was barely grazed by the May 20 tornado. …

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