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Tornado recovery efforts continue for Anadarko Indian communities

ANADARKO, Okla. – When a thunderstorm hit the southwestern Oklahoma town of Anadarko May 13, most residents had little notice from weather reports that the storm concealed an EF-2 tornado combined with straight line winds.

Those living in rural areas had to rely on spotting cloud lowering during brief lightning flashes to dive into their hallways or make a dash for a storm shelter, feeling the walls of their homes shake as the storm passed above. Many Anadarko residents said afterward that sirens in town were late in warning as well.

The next morning, people awoke to the sounds of chainsaws as many trees were either damaged or completely uprooted, landing across yards, roadways and lying on houses. The majority of the damage occurred on the east side of town, north of Central Boulevard, tearing off roofs and breaking windows of businesses and homes; a few of which were completely destroyed.

Because Anadarko is within the jurisdiction of seven federally recognized tribes, many tribal employees were sent or volunteered to help. One of these crews included the staff of the Comanche Nation Maintenance Department, who worked with residents to cut up blown over trees.

Many had no power for several days. During the first three days after the storm, the Kiowa Tribe set up generators and used its head start and daycare building in Anadarko as a distribution center for water and other services. Tribal Administrator Dennis Kopepassah said the water “was for tribal members, but we didn’t turn anybody away.” The tribe also gave out Wal-Mart gift cards to help tribal members buy groceries and other necessities.

 

Storm damage to a vehicle and property in a Kiowa housing neighborhood on the east side of Anadarko.

Kopepassah said at least four tribal members’ homes were completely lost, including one in nearby Stecker, Okla. whose home burned after electricity was restored. At press time, much of the Kiowa Tribe’s efforts had been aimed at removing debris and limbs from tribal members’ homes.

Another area tribe helping with relief efforts was the Caddo Nation. Polly Edwards, the tribe’s emergency manager, said they gave out water door-to-door through the weekend and ran out. Edwards then called Feed The Children, an international charity based in Oklahoma City, to partner with them. On May 19, six days after the storm, an estimated 800 people came to get help from them.

Linda Howell, Anadarko city clerk, said there were still up to 150 homes without power at press time; and that three minor injuries occurred as a result of the storm. Estimates required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were also still being conducted by city officials at press time in order to obtain federal money for disaster relief.

“We’re trying, but we have to reach a certain threshold for uninsured damages for FEMA,” Howell said.

That threshold is at least $4.6 million in uninsured damages the city would have to meet. Individuals can file their own requests with FEMA, but they must specifically be uninsured damages.

“We have to exceed basically $1.22 per capita, which in Oklahoma’s case is roughly $4.5 to $4.6 million in damages,” said Albert Ashwood, state director for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. “These are uninsured damages. Anything that’s insured doesn’t count.”

Due to the varied natural disasters such as wildfires, storms and floods in Oklahoma over the past four weeks, all 77 counties are under an emergency declaration from Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. According to Ashwood, this is the first step to receiving federal assistance.

“What we’re doing right now is working with city officials to come back and do an in-depth damage assessment, which there are several ongoing just from the recent floods and storms all across the state for the last three or so weeks,” Ashwood said. “We sent in a letter today asking for a presidential declaration. But it wasn’t for Caddo County, because we haven’t gotten out there to look at it yet. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be added on if we get the declaration. It’s just a matter of getting out there. You have to do an assessment before you can request.”

In addition to the homes and businesses, is damage to the Caddo County Fairgrounds, home to Anadarko’s American Indian Exposition, a week-long fair held every August. The storm did extensive damage to the grandstand.

No written assessment had been made about the fairgrounds at press time by the County Fair Board, but American Indian Exposition treasurer Doris Bish, of the Arapaho Tribe, said structural engineers had been brought in to assess the damage, and that if the event couldn’t be held at the fairgrounds, an emergency board meeting would be called to make a decision.

“Right now, we’re hoping and praying that the grandstand is okay; we’re just on hold right now, waiting to see. If it’s not structurally sound, two months is not adequate time to replace it.”