MOORE — In Rebecca Kasbaum’s backyard, behind a house that isn’t quite finished, is a slab of concrete with hand prints in it.
Next to those hand prints is a date — May 20, 2013.
That’s the day Kasbaum rode out a massive tornado with her daughter and grandchildren in the storm shelter beneath the concrete slab.
Kasbaum, 60, was one of hundreds of people who attended a remembrance ceremony Tuesday for those killed in the rare EF5 tornado on May 20, 2013. The tornado cut a path of destruction across Newcastle, south Oklahoma City and Moore, leaving 25 dead, including seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School. The storm destroyed Kasbaum’s home, in a neighborhood across Interstate 35 from Warren Theatre.
As the tornado bore down on Moore and she and her family were climbing into the shelter, Kasbaum’s cellphone lit up with a text message from a friend: “It’s hitting the hospital. Don’t move. I love you.”
Over the next few minutes, Kasbaum and her daughter kept her grandchildren entertained with a set of sidewalk chalk she kept in the shelter. Kasbaum felt her ears pop and heard glass break. When she opened the shelter door, her house was gone, but her family was safe.
A year later, Kasbaum is rebuilding on the same lot where her old house once stood. On Monday, she and her grandchildren put their hand prints into wet concrete that workers had poured on top of the shelter to serve as a reminder of the day. As devastating as the storm was, it helped rearrange her priorities, throwing things that were the most important into sharp focus, she said.
“Every now and then, we just need a good tornado to blow away debris,” she said.
Tuesday’s ceremony was held on the site where Moore Medical Center stood until it was destroyed by the tornado. Norman Regional Health System officials plan to build a $29 million health center on the same site. The center is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis said the city has made progress since the storm passed. Homes are being rebuilt, he said, and the city has begun work on two new parks and reopened two parks that had been closed since the tornado.
In the past two weeks, city officials reopened Little River Park and the playground at Veterans Memorial Park, both of which sustained heavy tornado damage. Workers have also begun construction on Parmele Park and Central Moore Park. Lewis thanked Moore residents for supporting the projects.
“The people of Moore allow us to do fantastic things,” he said.
Lewis also praised the efforts of various public agencies, emergency medical personnel and nonprofit groups like the American Red Cross. While he said the community hopes never to see another disaster like the tornado, Lewis acknowledged that tornadoes are a fact of life in Oklahoma. It’s important that businesses and other buildings in the city have storm shelters, he said.
Likewise, Gov. Mary Fallin praised first responders who arrived at the scene immediately after the tornado struck. Many went days without sleep and put themselves at risk while they looked for survivors, she said. Fallin recognized the first responders who were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“There are so many heroes in this audience,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said a number of federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provided critical support in the days and weeks after the tornado.
Cole also said President Barack Obama had been instrumental in the city’s recovery. Obama visited Moore six days after the tornado, and Cole said he’d kept his commitment through the rebuilding process.
Cole said he was proud of the residents of Moore — those who responded to the disaster in some official capacity and also those who found a way to help their neighbors.
“Americans come together in times of crisis like this, and so when we talk about the Oklahoma Standard, we’re talking about the American Standard,” Cole said. “We stick together as a people.”