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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

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.”

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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