Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson

Kimball County Sheriff takes in the destruction left in Moore, OK

“I’ve been through a lot of war zones, and this was worse than any war zone I’ve ever seen.”


Harry Gillway

Moore, Oklahoma was devastated by a category EF-5 tornado on May 20, 2013. 377 people were injured, 23 people were killed and damages were estimated at $2 billion.

Crumbled cars line the streets, debris is all that remains in the place where houses once stood and families are still trying to sift through the devastation left behind by one of the biggest tornadoes ever recorded. They dig through the rubble, searching for pictures reflecting better times that preceded the deadly storm.

All that was left was the city’s water tower and a lone American flag blowing weakly in the passing gusts of wind: This was what Kimball County Sheriff Harry Gillway found himself surrounded by when he visited the community of Moore, Oklahoma late last month.

“I’ve been through a lot of war zones, and this was worse than any war zone I’ve ever seen,” Gillway said.

Gillway recently returned from his trip down to Moore, Oklahoma where a tornado, rated an EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, ravaged the city leaving behind scattered debris where houses and businesses once stood prior to the storms on May 20.

“It was rather remarkable. When you look at the damage down there, it was just scary,” Gillway said.

According to Gillway, the devastation left behind in the tornado’s wake is still absolutely jarring months after the storm hit.

“Just about as far as you can see, there’s nothing standing. When I turned 360 degrees, there was only one group of homes there. That was just about all that was left standing near the center of destruction. The school was completely flattened. You wonder how anyone could survive this,” Gillway said.

Though the storm left many families homeless and struggling to find any semblance of the lives they had before in the crumbled wreckage of their old homes, they are not alone in their efforts as many organizations have descended upon Moore to assist in the recovery process including a Christian relief group that Gillway’s son, Sean, is a member of.

“What they do is they go out and help locate personal belongings in the house, and they’ll put it in a pile off to one side. They do that with the owners so that the owners can try to start rebuilding their lives and get their personal things and pictures and anything of value. The crew of people will be helping take down the house, because that’s one of the biggest things. If you have a house that’s a total wreck, you have to get underneath that stuff to see if there’s anything valuable left,” Gillway said.

Organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been very active in the area assisting relief workers, according to Gillway.

“The American Red Cross had a very strong presence there with relief efforts and getting people into shelters which was absolutely phenomenal. The other thing was the Salvation Army had a canteen truck that they took around to the different communities. They’d pull up to an area and stop. The relief workers would come out and get a sandwich, water, and chips and then the truck would move on to another area. They’ve been doing that every single day for weeks,” Gillway said.

However, it’s not only prominent organizations and firmly established groups that are taking time to aid in Moore’s recovery but also citizens from the surrounding area unaffiliated with any relief group.

“One woman pulled up in a car, and she asked if we wanted water or some sandwiches. I asked her what relief group she was with, and she told me she wasn’t with any group. She simply had been making sandwiches and buying bottled water out of her pocket and chips and snacks and bringing them down to the relief workers. She said she just felt like she needed to do that,” Gillway said.

Though Gillway did not go to Moore for an official visit at first, only passing through the area to take a police canine to a kennel and search for sirens for Kimball, when he came upon the city, he started talking to local law enforcement agencies and members of the emergency services in the area.

“It was really about seeing what relief efforts and resources were going to be available. It was one of those things where I had a opportunity to go there, be there, and experience what was going on,” Gillway said.

During his time Gillway was given a tour of sorts of the area or what was left of it by a local police sergeant who told Gillway a story about one of many cars scattered throughout the town that put in perspective just how powerful the storm had been.

“He told me about a car we came across that they knew for a fact that it had been three miles away from where it sits now and that the person that had been in it was dead. Cars were just scattered all over the place,” Gillway said.

Gillway was also surprised to see how compact and intense the storm was and how that reflected in the property damage that he observed.

Harry Gillway

Even two months after the tornado devastated the town of Moore, cleanup efforts are still in the process of being completed, due to the sheer scale of the destruction left in its wake.

“You could go from a house that’s totally destroyed, the next house over is moderately destroyed, the third house over will have light damage, and the fourth house over had no damage whatsoever. Because that cell was so compact that all the pressure was feeding within itself, outside of it there was no debris swirling around, because everything was being sucked in and not blown out,” Gillway said.

Through the experience and interacting with local authorities and residents, though the devastation observed leaves little room for elation, Gillway left Moore more confident and secure about receiving help should a storm like the one that hit Moore ever occur near Kimball.

“I was just amazed with the relief efforts, just 100 percent amazed with the number of people that were there and groups like Samaritan’s Purse, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army which was just doing a fantastic job,” Gillway said. “I left there with a much better feeling that if something were to happen here or elsewhere in our surrounding communities, that help was going to be on the way, that relief was going to be on the way, and recovery will happen.”


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