Rebuilding Effort Rejected for Picher, Okla.

Many buildings in Picher, Okla., were targeted for demolition even before a devastating tornado hit the former lead-mining town. Now the government has decided not to rebuild. Picher pharmacy owner Gary Linderman talks about the decision.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Parts of the Midwest have been struck repeatedly by tornados this spring -lately, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas. Rebuilding usually starts right away, but perhaps not ever in the town of Picher, Oklahoma. Picher was hit back on May 10th. Homes and businesses were leveled. Picher, once a prosperous lead mining town of 20,000, has long been a Superfund cleanup site. The government's been offering people money to get out of town completely because of contamination from the pile of lead tailings called chat and the threat of collapsing underground mines. Now comes the tornado. Gary Linderman is the owner of Ole Miners Pharmacy in Picher. Welcome, Mr. Linderman.

Mr. GARY LINDERMAN (Owner, Ole Miners Pharmacy): Good afternoon, sir. I'm glad to be here.

ADAMS: What was the situation when the tornado came through? How much damage did you have?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Okay, I was very fortunate. I was on the north part of town, and the only thing I suffered was some hail damage, which was the size of softballs, to my roof.

ADAMS: Now you must know that many people consider Picher to be a very hazardous place to live, and especially to raise children.

Mr. LINDERMAN: That's correct. Yes. Uh-huh.

ADAMS: What do you think about that?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Like in any mining situations, there's always hazards. I have been here since I was - in 1975, when I started school of pharmacy. And the biggest concern is possible sink holes from the old mines. But that can happen anywhere in the country, you could say.

ADAMS: You have these piles of chat, the tailings from the mining around town?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Oh, yes. They're like little mountains. Yes, sir. Uh-huh.

ADAMS: Mountains, almost.

Mr. LINDERMAN: Uh-huh.

ADAMS: And you're saying the mining's been underground. That all could collapse.

Mr. LINDERMAN: Oh, very possible. That's correct. Yes.

ADAMS: Well, why not take the money and get out of town?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Well, I'm very happy here. We've been here for so long, it's home to us. And they've been saying this for so many years. It hasn't happened yet, but they're calling for it.

ADAMS: But on top of that threat, you've got the tornado…

Mr. LINDERMAN: That's right.

ADAMS: …and more than a hundred homes destroyed.

Mr. LINDERMAN: Oh, yes. A third of our town. Yes. Incredible.

ADAMS: You have been called Lights Out Linderman.

Mr. LINDERMAN: Yes, sir.

ADAMS: Why is that?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Well, my minister started that a year ago, and I told people as I'm telling you right now and the listeners that either I or the city government will be the last ones out of town, and we'd be the ones to pull the main power main.

ADAMS: Shut it down on the way out, right?

Mr. LINDERMAN: On the way out - be it either I or them. So that's why the Lights Out Linderman got attached to me.

ADAMS: Now with so many people leaving - and especially now, because people will be taking buyout money, not rebuilding, just leaving - you're not going to have many people around. How are you going to make income for the pharmacy?

Mr. LINDERMAN: Most of the people who are moving to - the closest towns are eight to 10 miles away, and I have always been able to mail medicine to people, or I make home deliveries, also. Then as time goes out, with the gas prices and everything else, I might have to move. But as long as I can able to do this and till my patients and friends gets resettled again, I'll have to wait till that point in time.

ADAMS: Gary Linderman is a pharmacist and the owner of Ole Miners Pharmacy in Picher. Thank you for talking with us, sir.

Mr. LINDERMAN: My pleasure. And thanks for calling.

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