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Oklahoma storms: Shawnee-area residents left homeless after May 19 tornado struggle in wake of the 'forgotten one'

by Juliana Keeping Published: June 12, 2013

The horseshoe hung over her door, to hold luck.

Kristina Miller would need it.

An EF4 twister bore down on her mobile home park. The single mother and her son, Monty, 11, took cover in a neighbor's storm cellar on May 19 near Bethel Acres as baseball-size hail pummeled the ground.

Twenty-four days after the tornado, an Oklahoma State University volunteer pulled the horseshoe out of the wreckage that was once her home and handed it to her. The twister had ripped her son's bedroom apart, blew out windows and lifted the roof off her home in the Steelman Estates community. It was standing, though Federal Emergency Management Agency officials later determined it would have to be demolished, she said. A church group helped Miller knock her house down, she said.

The rubble pile just sat. There was no running water. No electricity. Miller moved into a tent with her son on the property. A volunteer with a disaster relief ministry donated a tiny camper for Miller and her son to live in. She got power on Tuesday, weeks after the storm. She still doesn't have running water.

Wednesday, with her horseshoe in hand, she said she feels lucky. She will hang it over the door of her camper.

“I just thought I needed to keep it,” Miller said. “I was really lucky that my house was standing. It was unfortunate all my neighbors' houses were leveled.”

A forgotten storm

Moore is familiar across America after a rare EF5 twister raked the town May 20, destroying homes, schools and lives. Twenty-four deaths were linked to the monster, including children crushed in a school.

Few have heard of Bethel Acres, a small community near Shawnee, about 40 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. Two died in the Shawnee area, including Steelman Estates resident Glen Irish, 79, during a violent tornado the day before Moore's disaster. The tornado laid waste all but seven of 87 residences, according to a county official. If not destroyed, the homes were uninhabitable and had to be demolished, said Randy Thomas, a district 2 commissioner for Pottawatomie County.

Miller said she is grateful for the help she's received, but others are angry that relief has taken so long.

Weeks of no running water and piles and piles of debris demonstrate a lack of help from local and state government after the tornado, residents said Wednesday.

Steelman Estates neighborhood association President Michael Bowen said a water plant is partially up and running with the help of temporary pumps. Debris blocks water meters throughout the community and the water that is running may not be safe to drink. The well water is under a boil order.

“If it wasn't for the volunteer church groups, we wouldn't be in the position we are,” Bowen said. “County and state just didn't want to come down this road, even though we pay taxes.”

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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