Oklahoma Tornado Project

State Farm / Flickr Creative Commons

After a series of severe storms swept through the state in May of last year, insurance carriers paid out over $1 billion in claims, making it the nation’s most costly disaster of 2013.

Most insurance issues have now been settled, but many homeowners are looking at higher rates than they were paying before the storm. 

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Tornado Project

With threats ranging from ice storms to tornadoes, Oklahoma ranks first in the nation in the number of presidentially declared disasters over the past 14 years.

That’s why the state says it's important for local officials to maintain hazard mitigation plans, explaining the steps they're taking to reduce or eliminate their risks. But keeping things up-to-date has proven tough. 

Wesley Fryer / Flickr Creative Commons

After last year’s tornadoes in central Oklahoma, FEMA allocated $4 million in hazard mitigation funding for communities to safeguard against future severe weather.

The City of Moore didn’t qualify for that money because of an expired hazard mitigation plan. Moore has since updated the plan and is now eligible for future FEMA money. But it doesn’t look like officials plan on applying for that funding any time soon. 

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In the year since a series of severe storms devastated Central Oklahoma, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded nearly $146 million to the city of Moore and the state to help with recovery. But so far, only a fraction of that has been spent, and spending the money has turned out to be harder than you’d think. 

Auditing The Storm: Hazard Funds Don’t Always Go To Damaged Areas

Jul 21, 2014
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

As a massive tornado bore down on Moore on the afternoon of May 20, 2013, residents scrambled to find shelter. 

Some retreated to safe rooms at home or in buildings. Many hid in closets, bathrooms or hallways.

Meanwhile, in Stillwater, people were also on alert because a tornado watch had been issued that day. But the city received only a light rain and no wind damage, according to the National Weather Service.

The destruction and deaths caused by the Moore tornado led many people in the city to believe that a residential storm shelter was essential.

But after the May 20 tornado, when the federal government began approving cash aid for projects like shelters to prevent the future loss of life and property, Moore was shut out of the program, according to data analyzed by Oklahoma Watch in a joint project with KGOU Radio/The Oklahoma Tornado Project.

Stillwater, on the other hand, has so far gotten the largest share of federal “hazard mitigation” funds released under the presidential disaster declaration, records show. Stillwater will spend about $1.9 million, most of it federal money, to help pay for more than 700 safe rooms in residents’ homes. The same program will allow Oklahoma State University there to spend $73,000 to install a lightning detection and warning system, needed partly for sporting events.

Moore has not been left out in the cold.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Tornado Project

When federal aid started pouring into the state after last years’ storms, FEMA designated $4 million for hazard mitigation – a tool used to protect communities from future severe weather through things like storm shelters. But the communities you’d think might receive this kind of money sometimes don’t. 

Residential storm shelters can be expensive. Prices generally start around $2,500 and go up from there. So when Hollie Schreiber looked into installing one in her backyard, she just couldn’t justify the cost.

“We had looked into a little bit of what the prices were and just decided it was, at the time, infeasible for us, given that Stillwater hadn't had a tornado and that we'd not actually had to go in our closets,” she said.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After last year’s deadly tornadoes, private insurers paid out over $1 billion in claims. FEMA also chipped in $15 million as part of its individual and household assistance program. But nearly three-quarters of that program’s applicants were denied. 

As part of our series tracking the federal aid money, we look at the decision-making process that left much of Central Oklahoma out of luck.

On the evening of May 20th, 2013, James and Sheryl Pennington stepped outside their home in Moore to find debris everywhere. The tornado had left a devastating trail, and they weren’t exempt from its destruction. 

“The front door was blown out. We had the roof and windows and some inside damage. The roof leaked the next day. I think it started raining, and we had water pouring into the kitchen.” 

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. 

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. 

benchilada / Flickr Creative Commons

About a month ago, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court heard the case of Take Shelter Oklahoma vs. Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The school shelter advocacy group filed suit against Pruitt, claiming he tried to sabotage their effort to put a $500 million bond issue on an upcoming ballot. 

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