By Michael Kinney
The Moore American
Lisa Smith Mier has been all over the country. As a member of Tennessee Task Force 1, the Memphis native has seen tragedies from Louisiana to Washington.
Yet, when Smith arrived in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the EF-5 tornado that paved a 17 mile path of destruction through Moore and surrounding areas, she saw something new.
Not just the type of damage it caused, but the response from the people the tornado brought out.
“We went to Katrina and they shot at us,” Mier said. “We went to Humble Louisiana, and they shot at us. Some people really don’t like the federal government. But this has been great. We did door-to-door searches over by the junior high. Everyone is like, ‘Thank you for your help, thank you for being here.’ To feel appreciated is nice.”
Mier and her group spent the past two days looking through rubble of houses that have been destroyed and talking to people who have lost everything. She can’t get over the attitude the residents of Moore possessed.
“I’ve been doing this for like 10 years,” Mier said. “We have been all over on hurricane deployment, the Pentagon and all that. But this is very nice. They did have a great attitude. They are offering us water and food. But we are telling them we are here for you. We are offering you food and water and assistance. That’s amazing.”
Tennessee Task Force 1 is an 80-member team made up of firefighters, doctors , structural engineers and technical support staff. It also brought search dogs and semi-trailers loaded with equipment to help dig through collapsed structures.
There are similar Urban Search and Rescue teams from Texas, Nebraska and Kansas. All 287 first responders and team members were staying in the dorms at the University of Oklahoma. OU donated thousands of bottles of water as well as work gloves and heavy equipment to assist with the search and rescue efforts in Moore.
“The people on campus are so super friendly,” Mier said. “It’s amazing how nice they are.”
Oklahoma officials also made room for 310 individuals and families displaced by the storm. Not only did they provide them with beds, hot water and meals, many of the schools higher profile staff helped out. That included football coach Bob Stoops who was seen cleaning up tables for the rescue workers and displaced families.
“I’ve never been to Oklahoma before, but it’s amazing,” Mier said. “These people are incredibly nice. Last night we walked in around 8 p.m. after working all day long, and Bob Stoops is in the welcome line of the cafeteria. He was like ‘Hi. I’m Bob Stoops. Thanks for being here.’
“I got my picture with him,” Mier continued. “I thought it was awesome. And the president of the university (David Boren) shook our hands as we walked off the bus. It’s amazing. They are just so nice. I’m glad we could be here.”
Mier said her crew was scheduled to go back to Tennessee today. Before they left, many made sure to tour the grounds around Memorial Stadium and Heisman Park, which they admit they haven nothing like in Memphis.
Yet, even as the rescue members tried to enjoy the sights during their time off, they couldn’t stop thinking what they had seen in Moore. Despite having visited tragedies such as Katrina, many were still caught off-guard.
“I guess you don’t realize the power of the wind until you see these pieces of wood speared through people’s brick walls,” Mier said. “It’s crazy. We go to a lot of places mostly for hurricanes. So we see all kinds of water damage, floodings and things washed away. But here when you see the wind, and it takes wood and punctures it through a brick house like it’s no big deal.”
But at the end of the day, it’s the people Mier and her unit will remember the most.
“You can’t have anything but sadness for these people,” Mier said. “All you see is the concrete slab of their house and just a big rubble pile.
“You see pictures on the news. But obviously when you see them in person, it’s just so real. The pictures can’t really describe how it is until you see it. It’s horrible.”