horror show

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An American flag flies over the debris field in Moore, Oklahoma on May 21, 2013.

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Crushed vehicles are piled up in front of the Moore Medical Center on May 21, 2013.

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A deadly F5 tornado caused widespread damage in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013.

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Chris Hussey plants an Oklahoma flag on his wife’s former hair salon on May 21, 2013.

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Mud is caked on a battered Toyota Tacoma in Moore, Oklahoma on May 21, 2013.

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Construction workers inspect the marquee sign at the Warren Theaters on May 22, 2013.

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A deadly F5 tornado caused widespread damage in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013.

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Houses and vehicles are shredded after a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013.

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A deadly F5 tornado caused widespread damage in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013.

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Oklahomans post their resolve on a sign near a damaged gas station on May 22, 2013.

I arrived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at 2:30pm on May 21, 2013 to shoot the Big 12 Baseball Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. It was less than 24 hours after a deadly F5 tornado more than a mile wide and packing 200mph winds had ripped through Moore, Oklahoma for 17 miles on May 20. The tornado had passed seven miles south of the baseball stadium.

Originally, the Big 12 Conference had planned to cancel the championship but Oklahoma City civic leaders and the community urged them to play it. Instead, all eight baseball teams, pitched in and volunteered with the relief efforts. Many of the players pooled their money and went shopping for food, water, and medical supplies and then took those items to local donation centers.

I assigned myself to shoot photos of the tornado’s aftermath. It was impossible for me to ignore the magnitude of the story. The tornado had killed 24 people, including 10 children, and injured 377. It flattened 13,000 homes, two elementary schools, a hospital, and had caused an estimated $2 billion in damages. Everyone in Oklahoma City was talking about the tornado, not baseball.

“Can you imagine a lion, like a huge lion? You mix it with a freight train and that’s what it was like. Scariest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Kim Limke, 40, in Oklahoma City’s Westmoor subdivision. “It was like a freight train came out of a lion’s mouth.”

I knew that access to the disaster zone would be limited because the police and National Guard had locked down the area including all three exit ramps from Interstate 35 to Moore. So, I drove the neighborhood streets from Oklahoma City into Moore. Surprisingly, I was able to get as far as S.W. 4th street which bordered the destruction on the north side. I spotted several television satellite trucks parked in a empty lot near a pile of rubble so I pulled in next to them.

Immediately, I was struck by the foul smell in the air when I left my car. It was like being sealed in a garbage dumpster on a hot day. I tried to identify the odor: Rotten eggs? Sour milk? Spoiled food? I realized it was probably all of those things since houses had been turned inside out and people’s belongings were scattered everywhere. Refrigerators had spilled their contents and gasoline had leaked from vehicles which all flowed together into stagnant pools around the scene.

I walked around the hardest hit area near the Moore Medical Center carefully stepping over downed power lines, twisted metal and broken glass. I shot several photos but I realized that my efforts were futile. It was impossible to capture the scope of the damage through even my widest lens. The destruction stretched in every direction as far as I could see all the way to the horizon.

Everyone I encountered was pleasant. Police, soldiers, utility workers, and residents were all friendly to me. Despite the overwhelming grief, there was an underlying sense of optimism. When I returned to Oklahoma City, I had a renewed feeling that Moore would rebuild and recover.

I spent the remainder of the week shooting the baseball championship. The games were a welcome distraction from the nearby tragedy but the tornado still overshadowed everything. All of the teams wore decals on their batting helmets that read “We Stand United Oklahoma.” After four days, we crowned a champion. It was The University of Oklahoma, the hometown school.

-scott weaver

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