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Auditing the Storm: Disaster 4117 - The Long Road

Jul 14, 2014
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mark Hybers

In 2007, Oklahoma was blitzed by a series of deadly storms, including an ice storm in January that engulfed most of central and eastern Oklahoma and killed 32 people.

Nearly seven years later, three of those federally declared disasters remain on active status. A handful of projects and audits have yet to be completed.

The long process of dealing with recovery from those storms points to the likelihood that Oklahoma will be doing the same following the severe tornadoes and storms of spring 2013.

  “These disasters, people think, ‘When they’re done, they’re done,’” said Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the state’s response and distribute disaster-aid funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But a key component of disaster aid, called public assistance, can go on for years. “Unfortunately, the public assistance portion takes a long time,” Ashwood said.

 

“Auditing the Storm: Disaster 4117” is a joint investigative series by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio/The Oklahoma Tornado Project on how federal and state disaster aid is being spent in the wake of the violent tornadoes and storms of spring 2013.

Of the five major channels of federal disaster aid, public assistance often involves the largest amounts of cash aid and is vital at helping propel the first emergency responses.

State Farm / Flickr Creative Commons

After a string of deadly tornados hit Oklahoma in the spring of last year, President Obama signed a federal disaster declaration that paved the way for up to $257 million in aid. 

One year later, about one half of that funding has been spent.  The Oklahoma Tornado Project teamed up with Oklahoma Watch to track where all the money went. 

Following huge disasters, there’s always a potential for things to go wrong. In New Orleans, former mayor Ray Nagin was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking bribes from contractors rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. And in New Jersey, there’s been criticism that some Sandy aid money has gone to less needy areas.

So we wanted to look into Oklahoma’s post-storm recovery. State Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood – who has worked closely with FEMA – says outright fraud is less common than it used to be. 

Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Jul 13, 2014
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

Kurt Gwartney / KGOU

A group that wants to install a tornado shelter in every public school in Oklahoma spent the holiday weekend gathering signatures to get its initiative petition on an upcoming ballot. 

This isn’t Take Shelter Oklahoma’s first attempt to collect 155,000 signatures, but the group is giving it another shot. 

Supporters of Take Shelter Oklahoma stood on the porch of David Slane’s Oklahoma City law office last week to celebrate the launch of their second signature gathering campaign.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Tornado Project

Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. Each year, the state releases roughly 8,000 people from prison, and many of them are looking for work. One organization now hires ex-offenders to help rebuild and restore tornado-struck towns. 

When Reuben Ramirez was released from prison three months ago, it was hard for him to adjust. Ramirez spent a total of seven years behind bars, so getting used to the outside world wasn’t always easy.

Joplin Works Toward Tornado Preparedness After 2011 Tornado

Jun 23, 2014
Gail Banzet-Ellis

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, we’re looking at lessons learned from another devastating storm, three years ago in Joplin, Missouri. 

Joplin’s EF-5 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 500 businesses, but since that time, the city has made remarkable progress getting back on its feet. Recovery has included planning for the unexpected. 

Joplin Businesses Bounce Back After 2011 Tornado

Jun 16, 2014
Gail Banzet-Ellis

When a tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma in May of last year, residential neighborhoods bore the brunt of the damage. But it was a different story in Joplin, Missouri, after an EF-5 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 500 businesses back in 2011.

Three years later, more than 90% of those businesses have returned to write a new chapter in Joplin’s story. 

Mercy Health Care System

As residents of Moore, Okla. remembered the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornado that ripped through their community by breaking ground on a new hospital, they could also look toward the state's northeast corner for a symbol of hope.

This May marked the three-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., just across the Oklahoma border. Both communities lost a hospital in their storms, and Joplin’s new health care facilities are signs of overall recovery and revival.

Gail Banzet-Ellis

Two years ago, a violent tornado hit Joplin, Mo. at a time when children were not in their classrooms. If the day and time had been different, that community could have become known for students killed by a storm, instead of Moore, Okla.

That near miss caused officials with the Joplin schools to look at storm shelters in a new light.

Jason Colston/American Red Cross

During tornado season, preparedness is key. Phrases like “Don’t be scared, be prepared” populate Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites when there’s a severe weather threat. One organization is now taking steps to ensure kids also know what to do when weather rolls in.

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