The Edmond Sun

June 6, 2013

Volunteers work to rescue photos scattered by the tornadoes

By Arianna Pickard
CNHI News Service

NORMAN — Thousands of photos scattered by recent tornados in central Oklahoma have been recovered and will eventually be scanned into an online database for owners to view and claim.

The pictures were picked up from people’s homes and thrown all over the state, taking memories of life before the twister’s devastation with them.

About 30 volunteers set out to collect some of these photos stuck in the rubble.

“You just have to dig,” said Mackenzie Unale, a volunteer whose team brought back about 20 photos.

This week’s project, organized by a group called Picture Patrol, was focused on getting the photos out of the devastated areas and taking them to Oklahoma School of Photography in Moore, said Angela Madory, Oklahoma public relations coordinator for National Disaster Photo Rescue. At the school they will be cleaned, restored and scanned into an online database.

Thousands of photos have already been sent to the photography school, but it will take time to organize and restore them before people can claim them, she said.

“We’ve got to get them off the ground first — that’s why it’s so urgent for us to do this now,” Madory said.

At the photography school the photos are cleaned with used dryer sheets, Madory said.

“Cleaning them you have to be really careful, you have to be really gentle, you don’t want to cause anymore damage,” said Unale, who graduated from the photography school and is helping with the cleaning process. Unale said she expects the restoring process to take about two years.

“We’re not talking just a couple thousand, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of photos, and it’s just a process for them to all get scanned and into a database online,” Madory said. “But there will be a place and it will happen.”

The group teamed with the National Disaster Photo Rescue, an operation based in Carthage, Mo., that helped recover tens of thousands of photos lost in the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011, she said.

These photos hold the memories of people’s lives before they were affected or perhaps devastated by the tornados.

“To give them those memories back and try to move past all that — it’s really important,” Madory said.

After losing so many personal possessions, something as simple as a picture may spark memories to help people remember who they are and where they came from, Unale said.

“It’s hope,” she said. “You may have lost everything, but you can have one thing back, and it’s a happy memory, hopefully.”

ARIANNA PICKARD is a reporter or The Norman Transcript.