Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

When bad news becomes good news

10th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Captured in clear videos, terrifying glimpses of the tornadic monster that leveled a large area of Moore, Oklahoma May 20 showed thousands of roof shingles rising like startled flocks of blackbirds, airborne cars being slung around like toys, and splintered house boards fashioned into deadly missiles impaling anything and anyone in their path.

“This is far worse than the tornado of 1999!” the sad report went. “The death toll is 51, including 24 schoolchildren, and we expect it to climb considerably higher as more information comes out of the medical center where people are still being admitted.”

Bad advice by school leaders led students to leave the cafeteria and hug the hall walls that soon came tumbling down. But a couple of teachers saved students by taking them into a bathroom in one case and into a closet in another case. A foresightful mother picked up her children at 2 p.m., 59 minutes before the tornado hit, took them home and secured them by putting them into their underground shelter with a couple of neighbors.

Fortunately, the 2013 tornado was not nearly so strong as the 1999 tornado that was clocked at an unbelievable 301 miles per hour – the fastest wind recorded in all of history. Again, fortunately, rushed, nervous and confused, the fatality counters tallied almost two dead for every actual death, arriving at 24 children in a total 51 count.

That is when bad news becomes partially good news. Thank God for people too upset to get the count right. The final count of 10 children amid a total count of 24 is still terrible and undesirable, but a lot more tolerable than the hurried, inaccurate count.

But, after decades of tornadoes in Tornado Alley’s epicenter, why have the political and civic leaders not mandated bulding code storm shelters to make students secure in their schools and citizens safe in their homes? Sure, new schools and some homes have storm shelters, but one school, one home without a storm shelter is too many.

Somehow, this smacks of the political/civil neglect of levees and floodwalls in New Orleans laid bare by the fearsome storm surge of Hurricane Katrina. Constrained by stingy funds allotted by Con?gress, the U.S. Army Corps of En?gineers constructed levees that could withstand a Category 3 hurricane — maybe. To say the least, they were flirting with the dangerous assumption that nothing greater than a Category 3 hurricane would visit the Crescent City. Alas, the only worthwhile Assumption occurs on August 15!

Decades of shameful neglect in New Orleans have finally been atoned for in a partial manner by a $10 billion system of levees and floodwalls that were tested by Hurricane Isaac and passed without allowing any breaches. We say partially, because the Army Corps of Engineers built 50-year assumptions into their levee designs.

Those 50-year assumptions concerned future subsidence on the one hand and sea level rise on the other. Scientific observations have already established that those 50-year assumptions have been outflanked by the vagaries of nature. The only consolation is that, for the time being, the Big Easy is safe from the inroads of floodwaters via the levees.

Reduced to sticks and bricks, groans and stones, ca 13,000 homes in many blocks of Moore, a suburb 10 miles south of Okla?homa City, resembled a battle-wasted area of a war zone or the aftermath of what we saw following the tsunami of December 26, 2004.

Meteorologists were generally on their game, but not when one said, “With winds exceeding 200 miles an hour, this tornado was an EF5, blowing away the velocities of even the strongest hurricanes.” That last clause be?trayed his lack of acquaintance with Hurricane Camille that struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969.

Quite unlike much-slower but very-wide Katrina that could hold a huge storm surge ahead of it, Camille was small in diameter but packed sustained winds more than 200 miles an hour. Some meteorologists even called it an oversized tornado. High atop St. Stanislaus High School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the anemometer was broken by a dizzying wind gust of 254 miles an hour. The wind deleafed even the mighty live oaks.

However, no one could quibble with the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado’s incredible power leveraged by its tight rotation sufficient to fling cars and pickups hundreds of feet through the air, to debark trees and suck grass out of the ground leaving uneven mud in its wake.

Yet, there was a silver lining to the monster thundercloud and its proverbial hook.

Heroes of every stamp were in evidence, with tireless first responders bolstered by many men and women assisting survivors and combing the ruins for any sign of life. Our best friends, superbly-trained rescue dogs and cadaver dogs, worked with first responders.

As in most catastrophes, the worst in nature brought out the best in neighbors and even strangers who came from wasted Joplin, Missouri. and beyond to help Moore folks.

This article originally published in the June 10, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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