WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of the May tornado that killed 24 people, injured hundreds of others and destroyed 1,300 homes and two schools, the city of Moore was faced with an unexpected challenge — what to do with truckloads of diapers.
“You just could not understand the amount of heartfelt donations we have received from all over the country and actually from all over the world,'' Gayland Kitch, Moore's emergency management director, told a House subcommittee Wednesday.
“The challenge there is that not all of the donations are necessarily appropriate for the type of event that we had or the population of our city.”
Kitch, who has been in his position 22 years, testified during a hearing about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency could help disaster areas recover more quickly. Kitch had high praise for the FEMA effort in Moore and no major complaints.
“We've actually been very pleased this round with the response from FEMA and their federal partners,” Kitch said.
“Having done this before, it hasn't always been this way. But I can tell you that some of their streamlined programs have certainly helped. And they've also streamlined some of their own procedures internally. I can tell you that within a day or two, I had a single FEMA point of contact ... he almost lived in my office with me.”
The city likely saved $1 million through a FEMA pilot program that emphasized expediency in removing about 12,000 truckloads of tornado debris, he said.
Kitch's testimony came on the same day an Oklahoma group launched a petition drive for a $500 million bond issue to build storm shelters in schools. Kitch addressed the issue of building shelters or safe rooms a number of times in answering questions from House members.
Kitch told Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, that city officials realized they had a “significant issue with sheltering in some of our public buildings such as our schools.”
He told the subcommittee that Oklahomans generally don't build basements because they tend to leak. There is “a lot of interest in my community” about safe rooms, he said.
Nearly 15 percent of Moore homes have safe rooms, and about 25 percent of those were built with federal grant money from FEMA.
“There's no doubt that these safe rooms saved many lives on May 20,” he said.
“We're seeing a lot of the homes that are being rebuilt incorporating some sort of safe room or shelter within them. We are encouraging that. Some of the long-term recovery money that we are just now starting to receive, we will be earmarking for assistance for safe rooms.”
Responding to a question from Mullin about mistakes made or lessons learned from the tornado, Kitch said the city realized a challenge in “our management of donations.”
“Where do we put all this stuff? How do we sort it? How do we make it available to those who do have needs? And what do we do with the rest of it?”
He said, “The materials we received — and are still receiving, I should add — were finally warehoused by the state.”
Kitch told the subcommittee the city received truckloads of diapers. After the hearing, he said other donated items ranged from food and clothing to a decades-old Boy Scout canteen.