Wednesday 21 March 2018

Irish storm chaser leads tornado recovery efforts

Rae Kittrell holds her son Rylan, a block away from her house in Moore, Oklahoma
Rae Kittrell holds her son Rylan, a block away from her house in Moore, Oklahoma
JaNae Hornsby. JaNae, was killed when the tornado struck Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore
Sarah Dick reads to her daughter Jadyn outside their destroyed home
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

AN Irish storm chaser is leading the Oklahoma community into recovery by delivering supplies to those affected by the devastating tornado.

Paul Downes, from Mullingar, who is a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma, has spent the last four days consistently visiting hard-hit communities, including Moore and Shawnee, delivering much-needed medical and food supplies.

Mr Downes, who has been living in Oklahoma for the last two years, has even been taking part in search-and-rescue teams in the affected areas. He has made the Journey Church in Norman, just outside of Moore, an unofficial base camp, leading several other volunteers eager to do their bit in helping rebuild the community.

"For many of these people, all of their possessions are gone," he told the Irish Independent.

"There are several of us leaving from the Journey Church every morning to help in any way we can."


During our interview, Mr Downes had rushed off to take part in a potential search and rescue in Shawnee after reports surfaced that another body was found there, but thankfully, it was a false alarm.

"I think there were some wires crossed," he added.

Although he lives in a neighbouring community, he was not directly affected by the devastating tornado, which killed 24 people and injured nearly 400.

Joined by a team of fellow volunteers, Paul is one of many residents who have rallied together to support those in need.

While the city faces unimaginable destruction and reconstructive efforts, teams of rescue workers have been working tirelessly around the clock to help in any way they can, whether it be through delivering food and water to rescue centres, or helping those now left homeless, combing through the debris of their houses to identify any belongings that can be salvaged.

The city of Oklahoma is all too familiar with the tragic consequences of a tornado, and a 'photo centre' has been set up in many of the recovery shelters, where neighbours can give any family photos that may have been transferred in the storm.

While many people's material possessions may have been obliterated, some hope can be given in the form of a sentimental object, such as a photo – no matter how damaged it may be.

One woman I spoke to explained that after 2003's tornado, she found an old family photo belonging to a resident from 12 miles away and made sure to post it to its rightful owner after tracking her down.

The indomitable American spirit has once again been tested as thousands attempt to recover from one of the most destructive tornadoes in US history.

The first responders on the scenes are being deservedly hailed as heroes, and authorities now believe that they have identified all bodies, and hospitals are still treating the injured, most of whom are considered to be in stable condition.

Severe weather warnings were issued in several areas of Oklahoma yesterday, lasting through until Sunday, when President Barack Obama will visit the site. And the first funeral of the dozens who lost their lives took place, remembering nine-year-old Antonia Candelaria, a student at Plaza Tower Elementary School, where seven students were killed.

Recovery may be the focal point of the day, but it seems a long way away before the healing can truly begin.

Irish Independent

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