Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hope Oklahoma's Okay

Courtesy Brett Deering/Getty Images

I had another post ready to go, but then I heard about the Oklahoma City tornado. As I write this, 51 people are dead.

This kind of thing is especially jarring because it isn’t easily reduced to politics or religion or land or criminal behavior. This is about nature – the awesome, unpredictable, scary, not-to-be-underestimated power of nature to devastate, to kill indiscriminately. It doesn’t matter how old you are or which politicians you support or whether you live in a trailer or a gated community – if a tornado wants to wipe your house, your street, your neighborhood or your city off the face of this floating blue orb, it will.

Paul Hellstern/The Oklahoman
Anita and I were watching The Voice last night; at the top of the show, host Carson Daly referred to the tragedy in Oklahoma City and threw it to coach Blake Shelton, who expressed concern and hope that everything would turn out okay. I turned to Anita and remarked, “Geez, are they drama queens or what? It’s weather, man. And it’s Tornado Alley. I hate it when people on television are mawkish and try to pull at our heartstrings.”

Then I learned via a special report by NBC’s Brian “Not a Single Hair is Out of Place on My Serious Newsman Head” Williams that the death toll exceeded 50 (20 of whom were children) and residents of Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, had no electricity, no water, no phones and as of 9:00 p.m., no hope. (Moore was already obliterated by a tornado once, back in May of 1999; 41 people were killed and hundreds were injured.) I learned that schools packed with students were destroyed. I learned that hospitals in the area were caring for at least 145 injured people, 70 of whom were children. I learned that the death toll was expected to climb as communication was restored. And I learned that sometimes I’m a cynical *ssh*l*.

Courtesy Sue Ogrocki/AP
The New York Times reported that entire neighborhoods were completely leveled and damaged roads and debris were making it difficult for emergency responders to get to the folks who needed help. According to the National Weather Service, the tornado, which was reported to be two miles wide and consisting of 200-mile-per-hour winds, touched down just before 3:00 p.m. yesterday and traveled for 20 miles. It was on the ground for 40 minutes, the spokesperson said, and was a Category 5 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures tornado strength on a scale of 0 to 5.

I could use this opportunity to expound upon the futility of prayer – I antagonized a bunch of self-righteous brethren in Facebook who were typing, “Praise Jesus!” and “God is Good!” under a photograph of a rescued child in Moore, telling them that I doubt folks in Oklahoma City were clamoring to compliment The Bearded White Dude Who Floats on Clouds and Awards Touchdowns and Grammys for slaughtering their loved ones – or make the case for government action to combat climate change or take swipes at the many mealy-mouthed politicians who’ve opposed sending aid to areas stricken by natural disasters but I won’t.

Courtesy Brett Deering/Getty Images
Instead, I’ll use “What’s the Diehl?” to send genuine best wishes to the people of the Sooner State. Whether it’s cheesy or not, I’m reminded at times like this that we’re all neighbors on Planet Earth. I hope the death toll is low and our compassion is high in the coming days and weeks.

Update: As of 4:30 p.m., CNN and The Washington Post are reporting that 24 people were confirmed dead, including nine children. (Earlier reports of at least 51 deaths were erroneous, according to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office.) More than 230 people have been injured; at least 100 have been rescued from the rubble. The death toll could still rise.

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has created an “Oklahoma Tornado Response Fund” to help affected communities. Operation USA is another alternative for those wishing to help.

Courtesy Alonzo Adams/AP
Courtesy Steve Gooch/AP

Sources: MSN.com, New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post.

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