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Wednesday 23 October 2019

Caitlin McBride in Oklahoma: 'I feel as if I am on a different planet'

Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

Just one week ago, I was in Oklahoma's neighbouring state of Texas footloose and fancy free on my holidays in Austin, and today, as I arrive in Oklahoma, I feel as if I'm on a different planet.

Oklahoma City may not traditionally be known as the tourism epicentre of the US, but today, the capital of the Sooner State is quite literally, filled to the brim.

Nearly every room in the city is sold out, flights are fully booked and those keen to either return to their native state or simply visit will have their patience tested as they attempt to travel to a post-tornado state.

I was lucky to get a flight from Boston (where I was already reporting from), when I booked a flight at 3am yesterday morning. By 8am, there were only a handful of flights left at exorbitant prices. The same applies for hotel rooms, as many premises have resorted to posting 'sold out' signs on their doors due to the sheer number of walk-ins.

Members of the international media and aid workers have arrived to the city in their thousands, keen to tell a story which very much needs to be told, or help in any way they can. Joining me on my flight earlier was a team of Swedish and Peruvian journalists, and Oklahomans who were delayed due to the extreme weather.

When I arrived to collect my rental car at Will Rogers World Airport, I was told they only had minivans left due to the incredible demand; bearing in mind that this company was the only one left with any available vehicles at all.

As I pulled into a convenience store to ask for directions, thankful to have a car to drive and a place to rest my head for the night, I met a Red Cross worker, who was just as lost as I was. She has been a volunteer for several years, but, like me, had never been to the city before. And, like me, would have prefer to visit under different circumstances.

Nothing can prepare you for meeting the parents of children who have had their lives torn away from them, families who are now homeless and little ones who are waiting at a shelter for mommy and daddy to come home. Why? Simply because of geography.

Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Texas are four states regularly affected by severe storms, but it's the people of Moore, just outside the city, who have had to face more devastation than any town should. 14 years ago, they endured another tornado which ravaged their town from the inside out. Now, they are facing incomprehensible damage and reconstruction, both physically and emotionally. They are, once again, having to piece their lives together from the ground up.

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