Moore residents return to tornado-ravaged area, consider rebuilding


MOORE, Okla. -- As bulldozers cleared great piles of debris where homes once stood, some residents took stock of the wreckage and pondered their next decisions: move or rebuild?

For many, including those near the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died, it is hard to imagine rebuilding, or moving on.

“You sign that 30-year note thinking you’ll be here for 30 years,” said Willie Gouge, who returned to a house with a shredded roof and a perforated living room. “And then something like this happens. It’s like nature says ‘It’s time to move.’ ”


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Gouge and his wife bought their home seven years ago. But they are not yet sure if they will move back. Somebody else’s Christmas lights were dangling from his awnings and somebody’s lawn chair was lodged in his roof.

“Don’t know where it came from,” he said, looking up at the chair’s legs from inside his mud-spattered kitchen as the sun peeked in. “Gave me more light than I wanted.”

Gouge joined dozens of other residents slowly returning to the ruin of Monday’s powerful twister. The focus in Oklahoma turned from looking for survivors to recovery.

“We know that people are really hurting. There’s a lot of recovery yet to do,” Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said at a news conference Wednesday in Oklahoma.

Gouge’s mother-in-law, Gail Skaggs, 70, lived next door to the Plaza Towers Elementary School in a brand-new brick home she shared with her husband, Jim. It’s now a concrete slab with a tangle of wood on it. An easy chair sits upright where the living room used to be.

“I loved my house,” she said.”We’ve been married for 50 years, and this is the first house we bought.”


The playground next to Skaggs’ home is just a sheet of dirt after rescuers bulldozed all the debris away during their intensive search of the school’s rubble.

On Wednesday, the Skaggs returned home and salvaged a few essentials and irreplaceables: clothes, Gail’s rings, and the couple’s computer, which had recordings of Gail singing at church.

Down the block, residents and their relatives got past police tape to retrieve belongings. David Southerland, 26, had slipped past to get into his aunt’s house; she has Alzheimer’s, and he needed to get her medication.

“I couldn’t find anything,” he said as he slipped back out. “Just shirts and pictures. ... I was waiting for them [the police] to kick me out.” But after he explained the situation, he said, “I think they kind of looked the other way.”

Chris and Tuesdie Huckeby picked up a long sheet of aluminum in of the yard of their Ginger Avenue home as they secured their property.

“This is my house,” Chris Huckeby said of the police barricades that have shut off much of the city. “They’re not going to keep me out of here.”

He said their insurance agency, State Farm, had called them and given them money for a hotel room.


Behind their house, which was still standing, a team of rescue workers puzzled over a mattress sitting in a tangle of lumber collected along the edges of a pond like wooden scum. There was a lump beneath it. The Huckebys paused to watch as rescue dogs jumped into the water to see whether it was a body.

“I’m just devastated,” Tuesdie murmured as the firefighters tried to hoist the mattress out of the water. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

“She’s ready to get out of here,” Chris said of his wife. “Move back to Florida.”


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