Local News

Tornado Survivors Rebuild Their Lives With Community Spirit

Posted May 5, 1999

— Several people who were injured in the Oklahoma tornadoes have died, increasing the death toll to 46.

There are still 55 people missing in the aftermath of Monday's twisters, but officials do not expect to find many more victims since all of the damaged homes have been searched several times.

It has been an agonizing wait for survivors who are still searching for their loved ones. Tornado survivor Earl Capps says one of the hardest things to deal with is the fear of the unknown.

"It's the unknown about the people I know," he says. "People that lived over by the elementary school that was destroyed, friends of ours that I haven't heard from."

Capps is not alone. At theRed CrossDisaster Command Center, volunteers are using ham radios and telephones to find those who are still missing.

The center is receiving some calls from people that simply report, "We are well taken care of, and we're okay," says volunteer Gerry Taylor.

At the same time, calls are coming in from those who cannot find their loved ones.

"We received one the other day from England," Taylor said. "The biggest thing you hear is the tone of the voice. They say, 'I'm looking for my brother,' or 'I can't find my brother, sister or grandmother.'"

As the hours pass, the list of the missing is getting shorter. However, the survivors are still having trouble contacting the people they care about.

"I just don't have any contact with anybody," Capps said. "I don't have a phone yet, and you can't get around."

The survivors of the tornadoes pulled together Thursday to begin the massive clean up effort.

Homes are just piles of debris, and cars are literally wrapped around trees.

"It's a novelty when you stand miles away, but then you stand in the middle of it, and then it kind of hits home," tornado survivor John Davidson said.

The American flag still flies over Capps' neighborhood, and so does its spirit. Families are coming together, neighbors are helping neighbors, and friend are helping friends.

Davidson lent his hands to help his friend, Capps, try to salvage some memories from his destroyed home.

"He needs everybody that he has," Davidson said.

The only thing that is left of Capps' home is the foundation, and the few things they can find in the rubble.

"I don't think the reality of it has set in yet," Capps said. "I think what I've determined is that we are just thankful we have our lives."

Even through the scene of death and destruction, there are signs of incredible strength.

"We lost some things that we really felt close to, that were important to us, but we'll make it," Capps said. "[The people] in Oklahoma, as you know, are survivors."

Police closed down the neighborhood at 8 p.m. to anyone who should not be there. They have had a problem with looting since the tornadoes struck.

Some of the 46 victims have still not been identified. Out of the 23 injured and taken to the hospital, several remain in critical condition.

An estimated 3,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in Oklahoma. About 1,500 buildings were destroyed in Kansas.

Vice President Al Gore toured the tornado damage in Haysville, Kansas, and hugged people who lost their homes. He said the Labor Department will spend $5.7 million to help clean up the area.

Victims of the storm were remembered Thursday during a ceremony at the Oklahoma Capitol to observe the National Day of Prayer.


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