Moore

Dawn Musick / Flickr.com

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner has increased the toll from the May 20 tornado at Moore after the death of a 90-year-old woman critically  injured in the storm.  Spokeswoman Amy Elliott said today that the death of Kathryn Begay pushed the  death toll to 25.  Begay's home in the town of Moore was destroyed and she suffered a fractured  skull. Officials say she suffered a pair of strokes after the storm and died  last Thursday.   A tornado that struck El Reno on May 31 killed 22 people, including 14 adults  and eight children. Many victims drowned due to heavy rain from that storm.   

SFC Kendall James / U.S. Department of Defense

Editor's Note: This is part one in StateImpact Oklahoma's "Twister Truths" series where we use data to kick the tires on the conventional wisdom underlying severe weather policy in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, state and local emergency authorities emphasize individual shelters in peoples’ homes over communal shelters in schools or other civic buildings. As we reported here, almost all the federal disaster funding the state receives has been directed to rebates for the construction of residential shelters and safe rooms.

boy walking through rubble
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Since the deadly tornadoes that struck the state this spring, StateImpact has been taking a look at Oklahoma’s severe weather policy, and asking questions like: Why aren’t there more safe rooms in schools?

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

More than 10,000 individual tornado shelters have been built in Oklahoma since 1999 with the help of a state rebate program that provides up to $2,000 toward the cost of installing safe rooms in homes or underground.

So it seems the state is doing a lot to make taking shelter simpler and more affordable.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Of the many ideas for changes to state policy following May’s deadly tornado outbreak —changing building codes to make public structures safer, requiring shelters in new school buildings, providing money to upgrade schools without shelters — the one that has the best chance of actually happening is ‘tornado days.’

Local superintendents don’t need any approval to cancel school in the winter— or spring, when sunny weather can quickly turn violent.


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Moore City Council has tabled a proposal that would have required storm shelters for houses, apartments, mobile homes and group residential housing.

Also Monday, the council delayed voting on a measure that would have required bolting and fastening to strengthen homes against tornadoes. The Norman Transcript reports Mayor Glenn Lewis says the city will meet with local builders before moving forward with the ordinances.

FALLSROAD / Flickr Creative Commons

In the 1960s, survey teams of architects and engineers started hunting across Oklahoma for places to hunker down.

They found basements and tunnels, underground parking garages and well-built structures in municipal and private buildings.

At the time, Oklahoma’s big worry was an attack from Soviet Russia. That threat never materialized, but the state is targeted by tornadoes every year. And public shelter spaces are disappearing from the map.

boy walking through rubble
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Seven children were killed at an elementary school in Moore when a massive tornado tore through the area last month.

And the disaster has led to questions about why Oklahoma used previous federal disaster money to build more than 10,000 storm shelters in homes, but only 85 in public schools.

Getting the answer means going back to another major storm, on May 3rd, 1999, and another state.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Moore City Manager Steve Eddy says more than 56,000 tons of debris have been removed from neighborhoods in Moore as the city reaches the one-month mark since a deadly tornado carved through the Oklahoma City suburb on May 20.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for 85 percent of the cost of debris removal through Wednesday, when the share was reduced to 80 percent. The 80-20 federal-local match will continue for another 30 days. After that, the federal share of the cleanup cost will drop to the traditional 75 percent.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The “Oklahoma Standard” is a phrase that describes how this state responds in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, like the tornado that ripped through Moore on May 20.

But that resiliency isn’t reflected in Oklahoma’s construction standards, which don’t factor for tornadoes.

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