Still In Recovery, Okla. Builds Defenses Against Future Storms

In May, a massive mile-wide EF5 tornado devastated the city of Moore, Okla., killing 24 people. Now, seven months later, residents are rebuilding neighborhoods with improved storm shelters. NPR's Arun Rath checks in with the city's Mayor Glenn Lewis.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

We're going to check in now with the city of Moore, Oklahoma. Back in May, it was devastated by a mile-wide F5 tornado with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The day after the storm, Mayor Glenn Lewis told MORNING EDITION that rescue crews were still searching for survivors.

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MAYOR GLENN LEWIS: We're still looking for, you know, hopefully that one extra person that we missed that we're going to find. We're very optimistic about that. We did have quite a bit of loss of life.

RATH: In all, 24 people died, including seven children at an elementary school. Now, seven months later, Mayor Lewis says the rebuilding effort is picking up steam.

LEWIS: The recovery is going quite well right now. If you'd asked me a couple months ago, I would've said it's going pretty slow. But I just got the permit numbers and how we're doing right now. We have 421 storm damage remodels in the process. So not bad. Over three-fourths of the houses are being rebuilt as we speak.

RATH: One of the awful images that stuck in a lot of people's minds was the school that was just wiped out. How has the rebuilding gone?

LEWIS: Well, actually, the rebuilding over there is going quite well. They have to - or they're going to have the school built by the next school session. And it has a storm room in it. So everybody's quite happy about that. We're in the process - the city is actually building four brand-new elementary schools. We're growing that fast. And all four of them, they're going to have storm shelters before they're opened.

RATH: And I understand you also run your own jewelry store full time.

LEWIS: I do.

RATH: So it sounds like kind of a close-knit community. I imagine a lot of the first responders were people that you - people you know.

LEWIS: Well, you know, after a tornado like that in Moore, we're basically all first responders, so we help as much as we can. You know, we try to recover all the losses that we can, especially in people. You know, we looked for people for the first 82 hours. So that's what we do. Then, you know, then we go to cleaning it up.

RATH: Now, of course, this wasn't the first tornado to hit your city. Back in 1999, another F5 tornado with record-breaking winds ripped through the town. You were mayor then as well. I wonder if you'd talk about what it's like to lead a city now through two disasters like this.

LEWIS: You know, we're the only city in the United States that's ever had two F5 tornadoes?

RATH: Wow.

LEWIS: That's kind of crazy, isn't it?

RATH: It's - yeah, it's hard for me to get my head around that, to be honest with you.

LEWIS: Well, actually, we've - I've had six tornadoes during my term as mayor. I've been mayor for 20 years. You kind of have to be, you know, the cheerleader, I guess you might say, for the city. And it's a continual process, you know, that we've had to do. And it's a struggle. But fortunately, the people here are very resilient. But at the same time, you know, you still have to deal with the loss of life. And that's the hardest part.

RATH: Glenn Lewis is the mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, a city recovering from an F5 tornado that touched down in May. Mayor Lewis, thank you and have a great New Year.

LEWIS: Thanks. Appreciate it. You too.

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RATH: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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