The images of blood covered Moore, OK tornado survivors are forever stained in our minds, or at least until the next natural disaster hits. The stories of children clinging together in hallways at Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary, while their teachers hovered over them as human shields to protect against the falling bricks, are heartbreaking.
In an area of the country where tornadoes are a frequent threat, why didn’t these schools have a safe room? My image of homes and buildings in tornado ally (based solely on Hollywood movies) is that they are all equipped with bunkers of some sort. I mean, even Dorothy’s family in The Wizard of Oz had a “storm cellar.” Where were their bunkers or safe rooms?
Albert Ashwood, of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said during a televised news conference that neither of the schools hit by the tornado had safe rooms. They also did not have basements. FEMA had funded safe rooms for more than 100 schools in the state, but these two were not among them.
The city of Moore had developed a plan to help residents build storm shelters, but the plan was put “on hold” as regulations consistently changed and FEMA was running low on funds. Via the City of Moore website:
“The City’s safe room rebate program is still “on hold”, with not a lot changed from our update of last May… Our county-wide Hazard Mitigation Plan still has not been approved by the State and FEMA. There were changes to the Federal requirements for this plan that occurred while our contractor was writing the document; he has had to rewrite it.”
Whenever a natural disaster occurs, especially one as devastating as the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma on Monday, those affected often turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid to rebuild their homes, businesses, and infrastructures.
People have taken to Twitter to remind us that the Republican senators from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, joined 34 other Republican Senators to vote against H.R. 152: Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, which stipulated funds for those areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. With their tails between their legs, they now will need to ask the federal government for the same aid. At an appearance on MSNBC Tuesday, Inhofe stated that the difference between victims of Hurricane Sandy to those in his state of Oklahoma is that, “Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”
Inhofe and Coburn were also two of the eleven Republican senators whose states were most frequently aided by FEMA, and yet opposed legislation to increase funds to the agency when it was running out of cash. Since 2009, Oklahoma has had 56 disasters declared and aided by FEMA.
According to Ashwood, safe rooms are a “mitigating measure. It’s not absolute.” However, he said, any safety measure could’ve helped the seven kids who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. It may not be considered absolute, but I’m sure it unequivocally beats clinging together in a school’s hallway.
Danielle DeAbreu, contributing political blogger, is a student at William Paterson University studying Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Political Science. Follow me on Twitter @DaniDeAbreu13.