Public and Private Aid

Ben and Kristen Jones stand on their empty lot that Rebuilding Together OKC is building using United Way tornado donations.
Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Tornado Project

In the wake of last year’s devastating tornadoes, millions of dollars in donations went to The United Way of Central Oklahoma. The non-profit organization also agreed to administer Governor Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Strong tornado relief campaign. Together, the funds raised a total of $20 million. 

One week after the tornado hit the city of Moore in May of 2013, country singer Blake Shelton showed up to host a benefit concert called Healing in the Heartland.

Auditing The Storm: Disaster 4117 is a series of investigative reports tracking federal disaster aid following the Spring 2013 Oklahoma tornado outbreak. This series represents a collaborative effort between The Oklahoma Tornado Project and Oklahoma Watch
Oklahoma Watch

Among the more than 900 federal disaster loans offered because of the 2013 storms in Oklahoma, the largest was to cover damage to a hotel east of downtown Oklahoma City.

The 188-room Bricktown Hotel and Convention Center, located about three miles east of the Bricktown entertainment district, was approved for a $748,500 disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration for damage in the May 31 storms.

Many businesses and residents approved for “Disaster 4117” loans rejected the offers. But the Bricktown Hotel, which court records show faced financial problems stemming from storm damage in 2009, likely would have closed if not for the 2013 disaster loan, said the hotel’s owner Tom Seabrooke.

“If we hadn’t gotten it (the loan), we would be closed, and 40 people would be out of work,” said Seabrooke, who owns the hotel through his firm, Bricktown Capital LLC.

The story of the Bricktown Hotel’s experiences with damage from two storms five years apart points to how damage can vary widely in one area and how it can lead to disputes over the extent of insurance coverage for storm damage.

Auditing The Storm: Dilemma For Storm Victims: Accept Or Reject Disaster Loans?

Jul 28, 2014
Auditing The Storm: Disaster 4117 is a series of investigative reports tracking federal disaster aid following the Spring 2013 Oklahoma tornado outbreak. This series represents a collaborative effort between The Oklahoma Tornado Project and Oklahoma Watch
Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes, flooding and hail that struck Oklahoma last year left hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, causing many home and business owners to seek help in the form of low-interest federal loans.

The U.S. Small Business Administration approved 929 applications for about $50 million in low-interest disaster loans for people, businesses and nonprofits, according to SBA data acquired for Oklahoma Watch by the nonprofit group, Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Most applicants, 599, took out the loans, but often for much less than what was offered, SBA figures show.

The total amount loaned by the SBA was $21 million, or 42 percent of the approved total amount. All but 52 of the 929 applications were from individuals. About half of the total amount approved was for applicants in Oklahoma City and Moore, which took the brunt of the damage from the May 20 and May 31, 2013, storms.

See a list of approved disaster loans for each city in Oklahoma, of which only 42% were actually used.

The purpose of the disaster-loan program is help owners recover from physical damage and, in the case of businesses, from economic harm.

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.

Kate Carlton

In the eight months since a series of severe storms battered the state, much of the recovery has been focused on people repairing their homes and putting their lives back together. But the tornados also displaced and injured hundreds of wild animals, and one organization took steps to help those animals even after it was hit by a storm itself. 

Animal Resource Center

In the days and weeks following the May 20 tornado, an estimated 850 pets were lost and shuffled between individuals’ homes, triage clinics and shelters. Most of them were eventually reunited with their owners, but eight months later, nearly a third have been adopted by new families, since their original owners were never able to be found. 

Hold Onto That Water, Cash Is King In Crises

Nov 20, 2013
Pallets of water fill one of Feed the Children's Oklahoma City warehouses.
Kate Carlton

Six months after a series of tornadoes tore through the Oklahoma City area, we’re looking back this week at the role of private donations in the recovery effort. 

Whenever a disaster strikes, Oklahomans and people from across the country generally pitch in and do whatever they can to help.  But in the final part of our series,  we find despite people’s best intentions, oftentimes the help that arrives is not the help that’s needed most. 

Kate Carlton

Six months after a series of devastating tornadoes touched down in Central Oklahoma, we’re taking a look back this week at the recovery effort.  In the aftermath of the storms, private charities raised close to $70 million, and tens of millions more in in-kind donations poured into the region.  But some of that aid was more helpful than others.   

In part one of our series today, we look at local businesses who donated their proceeds and the balance between good public relations and an altruistic desire to help.

Kate Carlton / KGOU

After tornadoes tore through the state last May, Oklahomans were eager to offer help. Four months later, some groups have closed their doors and moved on, leaving people stuck in red tape with nowhere to go. Recently, the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project opened its doors to the 2,500 individuals still trying to navigate their way through the recovery process.