The Edmond Sun

May 31, 2013

Commentators on tornadoes should stick to the facts

Patty Miller
Ferlin Kearns

EDMOND — While sitting at my desk on that frightful day, I was oblivious to the fact that one of the worst tornadoes in American history was once again making its descent upon our community, preparing to cast terror on us in a manner that will forever alter our being. Some lives were getting ready to be disrupted, others were getting ready to be destroyed and others were getting ready to end, some of which were really just beginning. But I was clueless to the impending doom.

Then I heard a faint hum, seemingly coming from a great distance, which continued to grow in volume until I was finally able to recognize it for what it was — the tornado sirens. At that point, I tuned my computer to a live weather report to investigate what was going on around me. I soon discovered that the siren I was hearing was just another false alarm, but I also discovered that some of my fellow Oklahomans, just a few miles away, weren’t faring so well. The horror they were experiencing was unbelievable and is still mind-numbing today.

As time passed, so did the tornado. I watched in disbelief as news accounts of the damage became more visible and more descriptive. The damage was unbelievable, and my heart just sank as it went out to all of those people. The shattered lives, the destroyed homes, the casualties and the fatalities that was sure to come. This was going to be a sad day in Moore.

But then a bright spot began to appear on the horizon. The sun was beginning to come out and along with it came all of those first responders. Not what we traditionally refer to as first responders, but the real first responders. Neighbors helping neighbors. The way that community came together almost immediately was heartwarming. People were literally climbing out of their own bunkers to run down the street to help their neighbors climb out of whatever situation they had found themselves.

The goodness of one neighbor helping another wasn’t going to mitigate the devastation that had just occurred, but it did warm my heart for a little while.

Then horror struck again. There was that school — the one that had been completely demolished. There had been little kids in that school that day, and no one knew of their fate. Had they escaped or were they buried under all of the rubble? Some had escaped, but some were not so lucky.

I just couldn’t help thinking about those poor kids being dropped off that morning not knowing that they would never return home again, and those poor parents dropping off their children that morning not knowing that they would never see them alive again.  

As I sat in the safety and comfort of my office, I continued to watch the live news coverage of the injustice that was playing out just down the highway.  Some of the stories would break my heart; others would fill it with joy. Within four hours of the tornado touching down, the news media informed the surrounding communities that no more emergency vehicles were needed.  Likewise, the Red Cross had received such an overwhelming response in blood donations that they too informed the public that they were at capacity. I thought to myself how amazing and swift the entire initial response to this tragedy had been. Next, I heard my mind telling me that I needed to get out of the safety and comfort of my office, and go do something to help. So I did.

My son and I took supplies to a designated drop-off only to find hundreds of people already there, who were literally dropping off tons and tons of relief supplies.  

When we arrived at the unloading spot, several people helped us unload. Then I parked my truck, and began helping the people behind me, who in turn parked their truck and began helping all of the people behind them. This was the process that went on all day long.

The story at a church was exactly the same as it had been all over town. There were hundreds of people lining up to drop off tons of supplies. Homeless people were everywhere, and volunteers to assist them were just as plentiful. I witnessed the forging of what I am sure will turn out to be lifelong friendships — friendships that were molded in this sea of disaster. With some sort of numb feeling inside, I headed home, cold, hungry and exhausted.

After having something to eat and taking a hot shower, I collapsed into my recliner with my laptop. While scrolling through social media, I caught myself feeling guilty that I had a home to go to, a place to eat, a place to shower and a place to slumber. I was almost ready to doze off when horror struck again.

A UCO professor, that I consider to be a very dear friend of mine, had written an op-ed about the tornado for the New York Times. The article represented some of the most atrocious sentiments that I have ever seen displayed, even in the New York Times. She used the death of seven young children to kick into high gear the Saul Alinski tactic of “never letting a good crisis go to waste.”

She characterized heartfelt beliefs, convictions that state leaders have in their core, such as the Biblical principle of self-reliance, as rhetoric. Then she went on to blame those very same state leaders for the deaths of those children who died in that school.  

She totally disregarded the fact that the school had been built decades ago. She totally disregarded the fact that hundreds of schools have been built since the construction of that one, and those schools were constructed under the leadership of all different types of people, at different times, with completely differing political views, but for some reason, the responsibility for the deaths of these children should be placed in the lap of the current leadership, most of which have only been in office for the past two years.

She totally disregarded the fact that after the May 3, 1999, tornado the most horrific tornado in state history prior to this one, the Democrats were in control of the entire state government, with the exception of the governor’s office, which they also secured in 2002 as well. All of this power nestled into one political party, and it did absolutely nothing to make the schools safer for our children. This was also at a time when tornado safety was in the thoughts of everyone in our state, due to the disaster of May 3 that we had just experienced, but with all that power and all that awareness it did nothing.  

But let’s not let the facts get in the way of exploiting a good tragedy, let’s blame the current state leadership, most of which has only been there for two years. Let’s blame them for the all the downfalls of all our schools that have been built during the past hundred years.

It is so sad that she had an opportunity to tell a beautiful human story of compassion and charity, but chose not to. At a time when so many people were suffering and so many others were trying to be charitable, she opted to publish thoughts of venom that were meant to divide our community, rather than to help heal it. I am deeply saddened by the missed opportunity, so I am trying to make up for it.

FERLIN KEARNS is an Edmond resident.