By Debby Woodin
It was a long drive in the middle of a severe thunderstorm that had earlier produced a massive tornado in Moore, Okla.
With the two-year anniversary of Joplin’s deadly twister approaching on Wednesday, a team of 14 Joplin emergency workers was ready to risk the trip in order to get help to a hurting Moore.
The Joplin team — 10 police officers, two medics and two firefighters — went to Moore on Monday night and returned on Tuesday. During the four-hour drive, the team members encountered such blinding rain from the storm that they slowed to 20 mph while driving on the interstate. That did not discourage the team.
“It wasn’t a question of whether we were going to go,” police Lt. Sloan Rowland said of Monday’s dispatch of a Joplin crew to Moore. “It was a question of how quick we could get there.
“Ours was an assessment to see what they needed.”
An EF-5 tornado hit Moore about 2:30 p.m. Monday, taking 40 minutes to grind its way about 20 miles across the city of 56,000, south of Oklahoma City.
Two elementary schools took hits; one was leveled, and seven children were killed. In all, 24 people were killed in the storm, including 10 children. Authorities have said about 12,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
“It looked like a large area,” Rowland said. “It was similar to the size of ours.”
Memories of those crucial early rescue hours in Joplin drove the team to get to Moore as quickly as possible, Rowland said. “There was a high number of injured and missing,” he said. “Initially we thought we had 500 dead and 1,500 missing,” but those numbers lowered quickly as people found relatives and co-workers in the deadly path of the storm.
When they arrived, the Joplin team members found a large contingent of emergency workers from nearby cities involved.
“They’re pretty well stabilized right now for manpower,” Rowland said. After providing information and working at a triage center, the Joplin team headed home. That may not end Joplin’s official involvement with Moore, though.
Rowland said Joplin initially had plenty of manpower, too. As the days of the recovery operation continue in Moore, a need to bring in fresh staffing could develop.
“You work some extremely long days — 12, 14, 16 hours,” Rowland said, “and there is a lot of stress built up, a lot of fatigue. One of the keys to dealing with that is to find those small victories,” such as helping a resident recover some belongings from the debris or finding people alive to reunite families and friends. “You have to take the positives in as much as you can,” to overcome the sadness of seeing the losses.
Joplin is ready for the call to help should Moore find a need, Rowland said.
About 2,500 people, including Rowland, attended a ceremony Wednesday at Cunningham Park marking the second anniversary of Joplin’s 2011 tornado. It took 161 lives and damaged or destroyed about 7,500 homes.
OKLAHOMA OFFICIALS asked people to bypass Moore’s exits on Interstate 35 on Thursday because traffic was interfering with recovery work. That effort also was being slowed by more thunderstorms moving through, according to The Associated Press.