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Bulldozers clear memories in OK

BY PJ HELLER | MULHALL, OK | May 13, 1999

MULHALL, OK (May 13, 1999) -- George Mead sits across a dirt road from the

house he and his sister own, watching as bulldozers and other heavy

equipment reduce it to a pile of rubble.

"There's a lot of memories (there)," says Mead, who was raised in this

rural community north of Oklahoma City.

As the house topples under the push of the equipment, Mead's niece, Natasha

Horner, sits on the ground with a friend and videotapes the last minutes of

the building's life.

Mead estimates the house was built in the 1920s. For almost 80 years, it

had managed to withstand wind, rain, scorching heat and tornadoes. But the

house was no match for last week's devastating tornadoes which ripped

through Oklahoma.

The house -- as well as most of Mulhall, was so heavily damaged May 3 that

most of the town appears as if it will have to be rebuilt. A vacant lot

marks the site of the elementary school; the only clues to what was there

little more than one week ago are some playground equipment and a large

banner proclaiming, "Future Home of Mulhall-Orlando Elementary School."

The storm, with winds that researchers say hit 318 miles per hour, cut a

wide swath through Oklahoma City and the surrounding areas, destroying an

estimated 10,000 homes and businesses and causing what could amount to more

than $1 billion in damages. On Tuesday, two elderly women injured in the

storm died, raising the death toll to 43. Nine other people injured in the

twisters remain in critical condition. One person, a 23-year-old woman, was

still reported missing.

In affected communities, the scene was pretty much the same Wednesday as

crews worked to clean up debris and residents continued the task of filing

claims with their insurance companies or with FEMA and trying to put their

lives back together.

With no insurance to cover his loss, Mead said he was waiting to see what

assistance was available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I don't know yet," he said when asked his plans. "It depends what FEMA does."

Mead, like several other residents questioned, said he hoped to rebuild and

remain in the town.

Up the road, Virgil Scott was preparing for work crews to demolish one of

two houses he owns in town. He, too, said he planned to remain in Mulhall.

Not far away, Tony Shafer was adjusting tarps over items he managed to

salvage from his house, which now sit in a heap by the side of the road.

The items are placed in a long row in a field with nothing but barren

Oklahoma landscape for a backdrop.

"We're going to try to rebuild here if assistance is available," said

Shafer, who moved back to the town with his wife earlier this year ago. He

did not have insurance.

"We were still in the process of moving in, really," he said.

"We didn't lose all that much," he added. "We just lost our house and

they're going to replace it." Shafer admitted that he wasn't all that sorry

to see the house destroyed since it wasn't in the best of condition to

start with.

"It breaks my heart to see the nice houses around here that did go down,

but as far as ours goes, it was not protected by insurance. It was

protected by abject poverty. It wasn't that big of a loss," he said.

Faith-based organizations, meantime, have been trying to assist residents

still in the town. The Louisiana Southern Baptists set up a food kitchen,

serving lunch and dinner daily. Since opening the kitchen, the organization

has served some 4,500 meals, according to site coordinator Dempsey Haymon .

Asked how long he expected the kitchen to remain open, he replied, "As long

as we're needed."

The American Red Cross has been operating in Mulhall since shortly after

the tornadoes hit.

Shafer, like many people, said the outside assistance was welcome.

"Everybody in town was so busy with their own mess that we had to depend on

people from out of town," he said.

Posted May 13, 1999


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