Oklahoma Relief Efforts Feature Small Businesses and Local Heroes

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—"I just got through walking an area that can only be described as a living nightmare," said Robert Norris, 31, an Oklahoma City resident who surveyed the tornado-borne damage in nearby Moore, Okla.

Norris, who is the owner-operator at Certa Pro Painters in Edmond, Okla., initiated a program he calls "2 Men, 1 Truck" to deliver relief supplies to those in need from the aftermath of the EF-5 twister. He had friends have their Chevy Silverados and Ford F-150s at the ready to convey food, tools and first aid kits.

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"This place was filled with death, the entire city smelled of natural gas from all the leaks," Norris continued. "I saw a police officer sit in his car after pulling off some wreckage at the school, and he changed as a person before me. He couldn't even tell me where to find the missing persons area, because he was holding back tears."

At a time of need such as this, it takes village to recover, and Norris partnered with small businesses like Grandad's Bar in Oklahoma City who have done their part to help with the relief efforts.

"We're Oklahomans—that's the simple answer," said owner Greg Seal, 43, as an explanation for his enthusiasm in lending a hand. Yesterday as he watched news reports chronicling the devastation and advising people not to go down to Moore, he figured at least his neighborhood bar's location would put it in prime position to help with the relief efforts.

"We're right off of I 235—it would be a great spot to collect things," Seal said. He put out a message on his social media channels and got an overwhelming response combined with Norris's efforts—enough to fill up three pick-ups and a one-ton dirt-hauler by morning. Since then, they have continued to collect enough for another trip into Moore. The damage there requires every little bit of help possible.

"Tornadoes this spring have been some of the costliest—and deadliest—in U.S. history," said Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. Though there is no clear estimate for how much damage this particular event inflicted, the tornadoes in Oklahoma this month call to mind the devastating tornadoes that nailed Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Georgia and 13 other states in 1999. Those tornadoes resulted in $1.5 billion in insured losses ($2.0 billion in 2012 dollars) in all the affected states, according to the Insurance Services Office, with the damage to Oklahoma alone at nearly $1.0 billion ($1.4 billion in 2012 dollars).

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Norris said he was particularly struck by the gravity of the events when he walked by Moore's Plaza Towers Elementary School, where children had died.

"I could not get past the sadness on people's faces," Norris said. "The police were escorting everyone out of the area, because they were no longer pulling out survivors. As one EMT told me as I asked how to help, he said, 'Go to Search and Rescue because we are just waiting to pull out bodies here.'"

That sense of pain was the animus for wanting to give back—all the more necessary with the added destruction to people's property and the surrounding infrastructure.

And so it is from Grandad's Bar this afternoon that Norris and others continue to load supplies into trucks to convey provisions into Moore and distribute the supplies to the First Baptist Church checkpoint there, the Red Cross, and directly to people and emergency workers in the streets.

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