Haworth was showing visitors some of Moore’s hardest-hit streets, where four months after the May 20 tornado, Marvin Haworth Homes and myriad other builders have dug in to build back up the devastated city.
Haworth paused on Harli Lane, in Westmoor Addition — a street lined with ripped homes, punctured roofs and lots scraped flat.
“I built these houses after ’99,” he said of the massive tornado of that May 3, which left similar ruins along an eerily similar path of destruction. “I named this street for my granddaughter.”
Westmoor is near Santa Fe Avenue and SW 149 in Oklahoma City, near the skinned plot of earth where on May 20 Moore’s Briarwood Elementary School stood and where now heavy machinery is preparing the ground for a new school.
Haworth, like so many Moore residents, has been here before.
He’s built homes since 1960, first with his father, Gene Haworth, then on his own. He’s watched seemingly wrathful but meteorologically indifferent tornadoes destroy nearly mile-wide swathes of his town not once, but twice.
Both times, after the shock subsided, came the work — rebuilding for those who decided to stay and try again.
“After ’99, I was hoping I’d never see another one,” Haworth said sadly, eyes fixed on the landscape of rubble.
In Moore proper, Haworth navigated through another pocket of destruction on streets numbered SW 14, SW 13, SW 12.
Then SW 11, where at the corner of Eagle Drive, flower-dressed crosses mark the loss of life that occurred where Plaza Towers Elementary stood. Nearby homes that remain — not leveled by 200-mph winds May 20 or by demolition crews in the weeks following — lean precariously, uninhabitable.
Haworth built many of those houses, in the 1960s.
“Some of them are still fighting with their insurance (company),” Haworth said of the owners, “or they were underinsured and now they’re stuck.” In all, 1,087 houses in Moore were destroyed, said Jared Jakubowski, special projects coordinator for the city. An additional 268 sustained major damage; 445 took minor damage; and 369 were affected, he said.
Many residents are rebuilding. Since May 20, the city has issued 218 permits for new construction, 377 permits for storm-µrelated remodeling; and permits for 897 storm shelters, Jakubowski said.
One customer who lost his home May 20 — Haworth built his home 35 years ago — called to ask Haworth if he still had the floor plan.
“I didn’t,” Haworth said, “but we were able to get started rebuilding, with a few updates.”
For many who choose to rebuild, updates will include one nonnegotiable item: a below-ground storm shelter.
In a tornado as strong as the one that hit Moore on May 20, “even concrete walls won’t survive” above ground, Haworth said. “Despite what some people say,” he said, it’s an engineering impossibility.
Which leaves one sure safety zone, below ground.
At 14500 Briarcliff Drive, Haworth’s crew was installing a below-ground, poured-cement shelter beneath what will be the driveway slab. This particular shelter will be ventilated and wired for cable television and lighting. Haworth said it will accommodate 15 to 20 µpeople.
It will also add $7,000 to the price of the newly rebuilt home, a figure Haworth acknowledges “knocks some people out of qualifying” for a home purchase.
That’s why Haworth doesn’t require shelters as a feature of the houses he builds, “but I try to provide options that fit everybody,” he said.
Not all shelters offer the upmarket features and carry the higher price tag of a cable-wired, poured-in-place shelter, according to Braden Bierig of Biggs Backhoe, a shelter installation firm in Oklahoma City.
In-ground shelters from Biggs can be installed “for as little as $2,600,” Bierig said, with concrete or steel aboveground safe rooms “tested to meet (Federal Emergency Management Agency) requirements” starting at $3,700.
Business of building
In another part of Moore, in the King’s Manor addition, Haworth pointed out evidence of “fly-by-night” contractors mishandling cleanup and construction. One lot, littered with concrete chunks, broken pipe and other debris, stood abandoned.
“You can’t build on that,” Haworth said, speculating that an unwitting homeowner had paid an unscrupulous contractor for debris removal. He added, “A bunch of people suddenly became builders on May 21.”
In the dirt that used to be a lawn stood the muddy sign of a construction company that Haworth didn’t know.
After 53 years of homebuilding in central Oklahoma, he said he knows all the legitimate players.
“It’s going to cost another $2,000” to make the site buildable, he said.
Around King’s Manor and neighboring Bonnie Brae addition — just behind Warren Theatre and the site of what was Moore Medical Center — crews worked on construction sites, using generator power. The EF5 tornado, which “will suck the grass right out of the ground,” Haworth said, destroyed the electrical grid in the area, and it has yet to be restored.
“It’s not what we want,” he said. “People say how this (rebuilding) creates jobs and is a boost for the economy, but this is not the way we want to get business.”
Not long after May 20, Haworth made his way to Moore Cemetery, where headstones and grave markers were in disarray. He looked south and saw something he’d never seen: “a clear shot” all the way to Southmoore High School, unobstructed by trees and roofs of homes — many of which Haworth had built.
He’ll be rebuilding many of them. Again.