Words cannot express the horror that went through my mind as images of the deadly tornado that swept through Oklahoma began to be broadcast Monday afternoon. I have hunkered down through a couple of tornadoes in my life and seen the aftermath of many others, but I don't think I had ever seen such total devastation in one concentrated area as what I was watching long after my bedtime on Monday evening.
My first thoughts were of my cousin, Carl Wood, who lives in Norman, just a few miles north of this week's devastation. Carl and I visit in Facebook almost every day and I have often read his posts about heading to his "fraidy hole" when the wind and storms began building up over the central Oklahoma plains. I spent a couple of anxious hours until I saw his post that he and his wife and their dog, Rudy, were all OK.
Then I learned that the storm had destroyed at least one school -- possibly two -- and I thought about all the tornado drills I have gone through over the years. The principal comes over the intercom and warns that we are in a tornado watch, and a few minutes later he -- or she --says that a warning has been issued and we instruct the students to get in the duck and cover position against an inside wall. We take it seriously but we never really believe, in our heart of hearts, that a tornado will ever seek out our own school.
But one did Monday in the small town of Moore, which had been virtually destroyed once before, about 15 years ago. My heart went out to the town and those who lost loved ones -- and as of this moment we still don't even know what that number is. It had climbed as high as 51 and then the number was "downgraded" to 24, with more to come. Meanwhile would-be rescuers still dig through the rubble, hoping against hope and praying they will find survivors, while continuing to uncover bodies -- many of them small bodies of children who had done the same drills my students and I have done. My heart breaks.
On one news show, I saw home video shot by a man who was standing on the top step of his storm cellar, filming the approaching killer storm. At the last moment, he ducked inside and slammed the hatch shut. After the storm passed over we saw footage from the same person as he emerged from the shelter. Where there had been trees and house there was nothing. Not one stone stacked on top of another. Incredible.
We could hear the man in the background saying, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh."
Job said that first, about 3,500 years ago. I am sure that the man in Oklahoma felt like Job when he looked at what had been his home just a few moments earlier.
I stayed up late into the evening, as I usually do when any natural or man-made disaster happens and the more I watched the more heartsick I got and the madder, as well. I got mad because the news media did what the news media always does in these situations. They found the most ignorant among the poor people of Moore -- those with wife-beater shirts and dirty ball caps on their heads and stuck microphones in their faces. Everybody always gets the redneck report when there is a tragedy. They also focused their cameras on the most distraught and emotional of the victims. More of the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality.
My blood began to boil when people began politicizing the tragedy. The dead were barely cold and not yet in their graves and there were talking heads on the tube talking about global warming and man-made climate change and predicting more and more strong storms that would weld even more and more death and destruction. Then there were other talking heads outlining the politicized steps we all need to take to prevent further disasters. Give me a break! Have you no shame?
Pretty soon we will start hearing stories about the price gougers that will be flooding Oklahoma like locusts -- or perhaps vultures-- and the con artists who will take money from people for repairs that will never be made.
But we will also hear stories of hope and courage and generosity -- because we are still Americans and in America, the worst situations still bring out the best in humanity.
And prayers will be lifted. Prayers for the people of that region, prayers that grief will be comforted and that homes will be rebuilt and that broken hearts will be mended. And prayers that the next time tragedy strikes -- it will once again be far removed from our little corner of the world.
God bless Oklahoma and America -- please -- let's once again begin to bless and embrace God.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.