On a holiday often thought of as an excuse to cook out or visit the lake, an army of volunteers descended on Moore and southwest Oklahoma City armed with shovels and rakes and determined to help clean up the damage left by last week's deadly tornado.
The neighborhoods affected by the May 20 EF5 tornado that killed 24 people and left more than 1,000 homes in ruin were clogged Monday with people who wanted to help.
They came from down the street, across town and across state lines. Some were with church groups. Others piled in a car with friends and drove hundreds or thousands of miles.
Dozens of volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cleaned a neighborhood near SE 149 and May Avenue. Gissella Lusk, of Oklahoma City, said she spent most of the weekend volunteering and has been overwhelmed by how many others she has seen doing their part.
“The people here are so generous with their time,” Lusk said. “Some people are not able to lift debris, but they are doing what they can. My daughter baby-sat on Friday so others could come help.”
Heather Smith, of Dallas, said she was part of a group of Mormons who helped clean up after a hurricane, but she has never seen damage quite like what she encountered here.
“It's daunting to think how many people will have to serve to get this all cleaned up,” Smith said. “Even just this one house — we'll be here all day, and maybe we will get it done.”
‘Worth the trip'
A few miles to the east, Megan White, Elyse Penley and Krystal McKinney were among a group of friends who drove to Moore from the Dallas area. They worked at the intersection of SW 9 and Heather Lane, near Plaza Towers Elementary, shoveling the remains of homes toward the curb.
“We had the time because of the holiday weekend, and we had the choice between Six Flags or here,” said White, of Keller, Texas. “We got together on Facebook with some people who donated supplies and decided to drive up.”
Looking at the mangled trees and piles of wood and junk that used to be neighborhoods, it's hard to see much beauty, but McKinney, also of Keller, said she saw it the minute she arrived.
“The most beautiful thing was seeing all those people out there trying to help,” she said.
Volunteers said Monday they gave up their holidays to drive from as far as California and New Hampshire. The help is sorely needed. Despite the thousands of people who helped on Monday, many neighborhoods looked almost untouched since the tornado barreled through last week.
“We may not be able to do much,” said Penley, of Bedford, Texas. “But even cleaning up one house made it feel worth the trip.”