Disaster prayers and help from a community that knows

Disaster prayers and help from a community that knows

May 22nd, 2013 in Opinion Times

People watch rescuers at Towers Plaza Elementary school in Moore, Okla., following Monday's deadly tornado.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Moore, Okla., today - along with a Tennessee Red Cross team and a Tennessee-based federal search and rescue group.

Mother Nature was less than motherly Monday when a massive "shredder" tornado dropped from the sky and took neighborhoods, schools, a medical center and at least two dozen lives.

At the medical center, 60-year-old Betty Brooks, there for a doctor's appointment, took refuge with others in a restroom just before the tornado tore through. She and several other adults strained to hold the door shut against the roaring devil wind until, after several minutes, the wind stopped.

"We opened the door and walked out, and there was nothing there," she told a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Chattanooga area residents know the feeling. We've seen and lived the aftermath now of several tornadoes in recent years, most notably the spate of tornadoes that tracked here in late April 2011. Those twisters ravaged Apison, Ringgold, Rainsville and dozens of communities in between and left 76 people dead in Chattanooga's tri-state region.

In Moore, just one massive tornado zeroed in on a dense urban area during school and business hours.

We know the pain.

We also know - and they do, too, from their own history - the long road back.

Sometimes there is no "back," there's just move on. Start over. Put your lives back together as best you can.

But there is help, and both volunteers and President Obama promised that help in the hours just after the Moore tornado hit.

"The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground - for them, beside them - for as long as it takes," Obama said Tuesday morning.

In Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi following the 2011 April tornado outbreak, we taxpayers, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, distributed nearly $257 million in federal disaster grants or low-interest recovery loans within five months. We and FEMA also sent nearly $211 million to local governments and nonprofit agencies to reimburse costs for clean-up and rebuilding public facilities and spent an additional $254 million helping with those clean-ups and aid distribution, according to the FEMA website.

The federal government may, from time-to-time, be some citizens' favorite punching bag, but at times like this in Moore, Okla. - and here two years ago - we more than get our money's worth.

Monday evening, some 80 members of Tennessee Task Force 1, a federal search-and-rescue team based in Memphis, were beginning to sort through debris in Moore, according to Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The elite team members are first-responders in their day jobs, but when disaster strikes and federal help is needed these men and women are called on, not unlike a national guard unit, to do a collective manhunt for survivors. They are among four such federal teams in the U.S., Heidt said.

Tennessee Red Cross also is there - or soon will be - with Chattanoogan Michael Puryear and another Red Cross worker from Knoxville.

Puryear, a counselor and casework manager, says he first worked a tornado disaster situation right here in the Chattanooga area in 2011, but no amount of training or experience can prepare a person for what they will see and experience in the aftermath of a tornado or other devastating disaster.

"You never get used to it," he said.

Let's hope not.

(Full disclosure: The spouse of the editorial writer, a retiree, is an on-call, temporary FEMA photographer and writer. None of the information in this editorial came from him.)