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.”
Government help with the heavy lifting only arrived Wednesday, residents said. Dump trucks and bulldozers from the state Transportation Department chewed away at piles of siding, insulation, branches and other debris piled up on plots in a field, transected by the neighborhood's dusty gray dirt roads. Here or there, a mobile home dotted the destruction. Multiple residents are camping in tents.
“There's no reason the county couldn't come out here,” said Rick Brewster, who said he owns two mobile homes in the community.
Brewster was glad to see movement on the ground, but said he was fed up that it had taken so long. Wednesday, he confronted county Commissioner Randy Thomas at the disaster scene with his complaints.
The neighborhood association is responsible for maintaining roads, water and sewer in the community, said Bowen, who lost his home in the storm.
Thomas, the Pottawatomie County commissioner, said his hands were tied after the tornado because of state law that prohibits the county from working on privately owned land.
The Moore tornado that struck May 20 tied up federal resources, he said. Then, a second EF5 tornado — the widest ever recorded — hit the El Reno area May 31.
“We lost all of our resources,” Thomas said. “Everybody went to Moore.”
Resources shook loose this week after Thomas got a call from Oklahoma's emergency chief, Albert Ashwood, he said.
Bulldozers appeared quickly after the state's director of emergency management called Thomas on his cellphone.
Residents say they've been complaining about the lack of help for weeks.
“This is the forgotten one,” Thomas said of the May 19 tornado. “These people are just looking for help and answers, and finally we've got it coming.”
Lending a hand
In the mean time, volunteers have stepped up to help residents trying to get back on their feet.
Numerous church groups have sent people and resources to help scores of homeless families in the Bethel Acres area.
“If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be at this point of recovery,” Bowen said. “If I was God, I'd bless 'em for the rest of their lives for doing what they do. Little things mean a lot when you don't have anything.”
The Absentee-Shawnee Tribe sent volunteers to help clear debris from water meters.
Three hot meals a day are cooked up in military-style tents by volunteers with motorcycle club U.S. Defenders.
Wednesday, members of the Oklahoma State University football team helped Miller, who had hid with the storm with her 11-year-old son, clear her property.
“The fans come out and support you,” defensive tackle Davidell Collins said, hauling splintered timber from Miller's property. “I want to support the people here.”