As Oklahomans reel from twister, they recall May 3, 1999

MOORE, Okla. -- It reminds me of May 3rd, they say.

Tornadoes are nature's dark attempt at irony. In Moore, it's the boat foisted on top of the living room, the flattened house with the untouched basketball goal in the driveway; it's the bowling pins still standing upright in the collapsed alley.

But where a single twister leaves behind incomprehensible chaos, those who know Moore's history have a double consciousness about such calamities.

Because this all happened before, on a date so severe that the year, 1999, never earned mentioning.

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Terry Holman, 67, stood on his driveway eyeing a horizon of ruin Tuesday when he shrugged and lifted both his arms in the air.

"I was in the hallway, and I walk out," he recalls of the aftermath of Monday's twister, which has surely put his newly tinder-stick neighborhood among the worst hit by the storm. But his mind still wanders from the present and back to 1999.

"This many years later. It's just unbelievable."

Then his buddy, Jim Cobb, also surveying the devastation, chimes in.

"I wonder myself why they say this is worse," Cobb said, then quickly adding, perhaps as a matter of decency, "Of course, it's still bad."

Cobb, too, had May 3 on his mind, though it was May 21.

"You almost wonder if there's some geologic thing that makes them take the same path," he said.

Or as Holman put it, "Move to Moore, Okla., get a new house every few years."

In this close community, where vile weather is a certainty of living, the tornadoes become geologic periods on the local consciousness.

"Each time, it's just different people," explained Marc Etters, 39, of Norman, who was surveying his ruined property in Moore, which included what used to be a Subway sandwich shop. He also has family here.

"Here in Moore, we're close," Etters said. Each time a tornado has hit Moore, in slightly different locations, but on similar tracks, means: "You know somebody in those neighborhoods." Almost everybody's been hit, or feels like they've been hit.

And of course, Etters was enough of a pro to know what comes next.

"Today, people are going to get their wits about them," he said. (Both Etters and a Los Angeles Times reporter were kicked out of a damaged neighborhood deemed to be still too dangerous for civilians.) "They're going to come back, look for pictures, then talk to neighbors they'd only noticed in passing."

They're going to find memories, Etters added. And then they find a mutual history. Life in Moore goes on.

The conversation is interrupted by one of Etters' colleagues, Kyle Derrick, who is pointing to a shredded trailer about a quarter of a mile from their under-construction Subway: "That's my office!"

He laughs and shakes his head, and the men continue on down the ruined road.


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