The Moore American

November 20, 2013

City manager watches recovery

By Shana Adkisson
The Moore American

MOORE — The view from Steve Eddy’s office is quite impressive.

As far as the eye can see, there are blue skies overlooking a crisp November morning. Cars just a few feet away rush to their destinations, and business around city hall seem to be thriving. But no matter how picturesque a view can be, there are still a few constant reminders that everything can change in a heartbeat.

Directly outside of Eddy’s corner office is a tornado siren that seems to stretch on for miles. Out the other window sits a perfect view of where, only six months ago, a raving monster of a tornado mangled this Oklahoma city to shreds.

Not only is Eddy a Moore native, but he’s also the city manager, and to say the last few months have been difficult would be an understatement. But, Eddy said, for the most part, operations at the city of Moore have a started a resemblance of normal. The city is, of course, issuing permits that are still related to the tornado, but employees are now seeing more of the daily activities they knew prior to May 20.

“It’s hard to see it (Moore) get hit so many times, but to know and see it come back like it has, and be better than it was before, is certainly gratifying. We are growing now just as fast as we ever had in term of not only the storm rebuild, but new homes that are under construction. There are several of those,” Eddy said.

Eddy estimates more than 300 permits have been issued for home rebuilding. A number that doesn’t surprise him.

“But I am very pleased,” he said “We are approaching a third of the homes that we’ve issued permits on to rebuild. We didn’t start issuing permits until about July. We don’t think that’s bad at all, in fact we think that’s real good.”

Eddy admits it’s great seeing homes starting to rebuild, but it’s also great to see business not only rebuilding but also moving to Moore. But, Eddy admits, it’s also difficult to go through the process a third time. Eddy served as city manager for Moore in 1999 when an EF-5 tornado hit the city. He also was here in 2003 when an EF-4 tornado mangled up the town.

“It’s been tough on all of my staff. They do their job and they do it well. I think we do a darn good job with what we do, but it’s been really hard. We talk about it some in terms of this is the largest and most devastating storm we’ve had but it also has been the hardest on us. Because you get worn down for one thing, but you just ask why? And there’s no answer to why. It happens. And unfortunately it happens to us more often than it should. It really gets old seeing the community destroyed,” Eddy said.

But every time, Eddy said, his city comes back.

“And this time is no exception, we’re going to be better for it, the community is going to be stronger for it,” he said. “Neighborhoods, particularly over by Plaza Towers where that whole neighborhood was wiped out, it’s going to be new. It’s going to be beautiful. New houses and neighborhoods. Lots of opportunities for starter homes for people. In that respect, it’s good. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awful because it was. The loss of life we had this time was much more than we’ve had. In 2003, we didn’t have any loss of life and in 1999, in Moore, there were five or six,” Eddy said.

May 20th is still a day that felt longer than 24 hours for most people in and around Moore — Eddy being one of them. Although he admits he was in a bit of a fog that day, there are still memories that haunt him.

“I don’t even know what time it was, but I got a call from the fire chief to tell me that the seven children had been killed. That was the worst phone call I’ve ever gotten as far as work-related stuff,” Eddy said.

The tornado caused an estimated about $16.5 million in damages to city property alone. For a city manager, that’s a hard number to face. But there also are more positive numbers like the approximate 50,000 volunteers that flocked to Moore to help with the recovery process.

“We had, for the first several months, church groups and groups from all over the country come during the week and every weekend. I would say 50,000 or more volunteers came to help. That was remarkable. Also the monetary donations to the big charitable organizations — Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army. Between those two things has been the biggest and the best surprise,” Eddy said.

Although it doesn’t make it easier, Eddy is thankful that the city of Moore buildings were unharmed on May 20. Adding that if those buildings got hit, it would be a lot more difficult to get help to the people in need.

“The amazing thing about it is, I’ve seen a map, I think it was generated by the Weather Service, that showed the actual track of the center of the storm. The way it came right up to the 7-Eleven, and on this map, you can see it make a U-turn and it came back east on the highway from there. The track it was on would have been right through here had it not turned. We have been very fortunate in the regard of city hall. The operations of the city has been able to continue,” Eddy said.

The one advantage that the city had after the May 20 tornado was social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. In 1999, Eddy made several trips to Oklahoma City television stations to deliver useful information such as debris removal.

“We did none of that this time, it was all through the web page, Facebook, Twitter and our own cable broadcast that we do. It was very important. It’s a good way for people to find out about how things are going from afar,” Eddy said. “My daughter lives in Washington, D.C. She tried to get a hold of me, and tried to get a hold of me, and did minutes before the storm hit. Right after that she couldn’t. At that time I didn’t know if we were going to get hit or not. She got ahold of me finally, I think through a text. She posted a Facebook message and that’s how my wife found out that I was OK.”

Although it’s hard not to think of the past, Eddy tries to look forward at the positives he sees everyday, like the allocation of HUD disaster recover funds.

“I’m hopeful that in the next six months we’ll be able to get some of those funds coming into the community. We’ve not completely decided what we are going to be doing with those funds. We’ve got some ideas and it’s going to make a tremendous positive impact on the community,” Eddy said.

There’s also Moore’s two parks, Veterans Memorial Park and Little River Park, which will soon be built back up.

“I’m excited and anxious about getting those parks up and running,” Eddy said.