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Oklahoma tornado aftermath: Lots of debris but 'we'll get to it'

MOORE, Okla. -- Newt Case stood in his yard early Wednesday smoking a cigarette and looking over his debris-strewn yard.

At the far edge of a field across the street, a different kind of debris field remained -- the remnants of homes that were reduced to rubble by Monday's monster tornado.

Case, though, said he is one of the lucky ones. The brick house he shares with his wife, where they have lived for 30 years, was mud-splattered. And that was it. The pink roses in his yard, virtually untouched, were still in full bloom.

Wednesday brought a blue-sky morning, the kind Oklahoma brags about, with a full sun. For that, Case was grateful. The electricity, water and phone service had been restored. Even better, he said, he finally got his first good night's sleep since the tornado punched its way through Moore.

Case, 60, has been through the massive tornadoes of recent years, and he's not going anywhere. Like so many other Oklahomans, the retired mechanic remembers May 3, 1999, the day another powerful tornado hit this Oklahoma City suburb of 55,000 people. He lived in this same house. It took three days to get power back then, he said.

Monday's storm was worse, he added. Much worse. But he's not going anywhere.

"I love this place," Case said. "The people are great."

Wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt, he watched as men in Army uniforms drove down his street in an ATV. Luckily, he and his wife, Arlene, know all the back roads, he said, and were able to get to their house even with the military blockades on the street corners to secure the damaged areas. Arlene, though, had been at the OU Medical Center for a doctor's visit when the tornado hit. It took her hours to get home, he said.

Next door to Case's house, a neighbor used a black plastic rake to clean his yard. Case said he had raked his own yard Tuesday but still couldn't get rid of all the shards of plaster and bricks, and chunks of insulation -- all that is left of the some of the homes that were pummeled.

"We've got a whole lot more to do," he said, nodding his head. "But that's all right. We'll get to it." The city will rebuild, he said, as it always does.

The toughest part of his cleanup, he said, were the photographs he found in his yard. Two blond boys fishing. A toddler in a pink dress with a birthday present. He plans to post them online to see whether he can find their owners. They are splattered with mud, but they are still memories.

On a large piece of plywood he found in his yard, he used blue house paint to write: "Thank you all." He propped it on the corner of his fence so volunteers and military could see it.

"I tell you what," he said, "there's pretty good people here." He and his neighbor rode out the tornado in his hallway.

"He knows I'm hard of hearing," he said of his neighbor. Case paused, working hard to compose himself. "He stayed right with me. If it hadn't been for my buddy ... " His voice trailed off. No, Case said with conviction, he wouldn't have been as calm as he was.

ALSO:

After the tornado, prayers and song amid the darkness

Tornado survivor huddled with dogs as house started moving

In Oklahoma tornado's aftermath, an outpouring of generosity

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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