Photo of wooden crosses and American flags at the site of a tornado ravaged neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. Photo by Amy Grissom, ACF Region VI.
By Amy Grissom, Regional Emergency Management Specialist, ACF Region VI
The city of Moore, Okla., is at the heart of America’s “Tornado Alley” - a place like no other. Severe weather and tornadoes are common. Every spring, ACF Region VI joins local, state, federal and nonprofit partners to help state and Tribal human service programs prepare for severe weather’s impacts on children, youth and families. But this time, tornadoes in Oklahoma claimed 36 precious lives. Hundreds more were injured. An estimated 3,474 damaged or destroyed structures included homes, schools, child care facilities and a runaway and homeless youth shelter among other critical supports for children and families. Today, 106 people occupy mass care shelters as they struggle to make longer term housing and recovery plans.
Out-of-town responders like me quickly learned that Oklahoma’s communities remain strong even in tough times. Neighbors help neighbors and take special care of children and people with special needs. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families and local organizations, like YMCAs, took quick action to support speedy reopening or relocation of child care providers and to increase their capacity to serve displaced families and those with new needs.
The Oklahoma State Child Care Director, ACF, FEMA and Save the Children stood up an interagency workgroup to coordinate restoration of the child care network and to meet new children’s recovery needs. The state also quickly trained more than 75 licensed mental health counselors who are providing support to survivors. Local emergency management and social service partners like ACF, FEMA and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) are contributing funding, expertise and a strong recovery support network to help meet survivors’ needs.
Tornado Alley’s Oklahomans might say the 2013 tornadoes were not their first rodeos. They know that recovery is never easy or quick when jobs, social supports, schools and homes are lost. Oklahomans especially grieve the loss of their beloved children and neighbors, but the long road to recovery has already begun. For more on Oklahoma’s recovery, visit OK Strong at http://www.ok.gov/okstrong/