Government Response

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.

gtquast / Flickr

Last month, a proposal to fund school shelter construction using property taxes passed a State House committee. It was the only shelter bill the House of Representatives heard, and it’s supported by Governor Mary Fallin. 

This week, lawmakers may vote to put it on the November ballot. 

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A proposal supported by Gov. Mary Fallin to help local school districts pay for safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms has cleared a House committee. 

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 18-5 for the measure, despite opposition from the mother of one of seven children killed when a tornado struck a Moore elementary school in May.

The bill calls for a statewide vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow every school district to pursue a one-time increase in bonding capacity for safety upgrades.

The National Guard

When Danni Legg entered the Governor’s office last week, she was looking for answers. 

“If she would just have given the records when asked, we wouldn't have this day,” Legg said. 

Her son Christopher died when a tornado tore through Moore’s Plaza Towers Elementary School last May. Along with fellow mom Mikki Davis from the group “Take Shelter Oklahoma,” Legg has now filed suit against Governor Fallin.

Kate Carlton

For over a decade, Lieutenant Brian Orr of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has responded to disasters throughout the state, including both the 1999 and 2013 Moore tornadoes. He remembers each of them clearly.

“It was very difficult to see things, and of course first arriving, hearing screams from people and just the total devastation,” Orr said.

The National Guard

In the hours after the tornado tore through Moore back in May, nearly 400 National Guardsmen went to the scene to search for survivors, clear roads and watch for looters. One of those soldiers was Major Dave Mackey. 

“I had an aunt and uncle that they lost everything. As a matter of fact, I didn't even go over there for many days just 'cause I didn't know how it would make me feel,” he said.

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Kathy Turner works with Take Shelter Oklahoma.  The group wants to build safe rooms to protect students from tornadoes like the one that destroyed Briarwood and Plaza Towers Elementary Schools in Moore.  Turner says her experience as a former school administrator showed her how important government funding can be.  

Kate Carlton / KGOU

Kristy Yager is the Public Information Officer for Oklahoma City.  She’s used to creating game plans for emergencies.  So when May 20 came, she made her way to a bunker with emergency managers, police and a handful of city officials.  She’d prepared for the crisis as best she could, but found herself overwhelmed trying to handle the influx of media requests.

“The minute that tornado hit the ground, I started getting national phone calls from everyone, from Fox, from CNN, from ABC, NBC, CBS,” Yager said. “I was having a very hard time managing the calls.”

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Two organizations in Central Oklahoma will receive more than half-a-million dollars from the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of its Economic Development Administration grant program.

The City of Moore will receive $300,000 to hire a disaster coordinator develop strategies during the rebuilding efforts after May’s devastating tornado. The job will also be responsible for managing disaster assistance at the federal, state and local level.

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