Monday’s tornado put an estimated 20,000 people out of their houses, which were damaged or destroyed. Some of those victims — and the rescue workers who’ve come to help them — are staying a few miles south, in dormitories at the University of Oklahoma.
More than 300 individuals and families left homeless by the storm are staying at OU, where the university is providing beds, hot water and meals, often delivered by a familiar face. The university also housed 287 first-responders from Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Tennessee.
“Last night we walked in around 8 p.m., after working all day long,” said Lisa Smith Mier, a member of a search and rescue team from Memphis. “And Bob Stoops is in the welcome line of the cafeteria. He was like, ‘Hi, I’m Bob Stoops. Thanks for being here.’”
Mier said she took a picture with the university’s head football coach, who was seen cleaning tables for rescue workers and tornado victims. She also shook hands with OU President David Boren, who greeted each member of the search and rescue team.
“These people are incredibly nice,” said Mier, whose Tennessee Task Force 1 spent Tuesday and Wednesday searching for victims and survivors, then helped Moore residents pick through the rubble. OU donated thousands of bottles of water, as well as equipment and work gloves, to the effort.
Mier and her team toured parts of the OU campus, including the grounds around Memorial Stadium and Heisman Park. She admitted there’s nothing like that back home in Memphis, where the team was scheduled to return Thursday.
Even as the rescuers took in the sights, it could not diminish the tragedy they’d seen several miles north, said Mier, who has participated in search and rescue missions during the past decade from Louisiana to Washington, D.C.
“I guess you don’t realize the power of the wind until you see these pieces of wood speared through people’s brick walls,” Mier said. “It’s crazy. We go to a lot of places — mostly for hurricanes — so we see all kinds of water damage, floodings and things washed away. But here, when you see the wind … it takes wood and punctures it through a brick house like it’s no big deal.”
MICHAEL KINNEY writes for The Norman Transcript.