MOORE, Oklahoma – Whenever high winds arise in Tornado Alley, this corridor of the state with a history of disasters, residents pay attention. On Sunday evening beneath overcast skies there were slight gusts of wind but it would have taken another EF5 tornado, like the one last Monday, to postpone the memorial services for the fallen at First Baptist Church.
The vast church, where Rev. Kevin Clarkson presides, was prepared to host a crowd of more than 4,500 but the Memorial Day weekend may have lessened the turnout to an estimated 2,000. Many were hoping that President Obama would be among the speakers, but he had come earlier in the day, visiting families of victims and first responders and touring this devastated community, a suburb of Oklahoma City. It should also be noted that the tornado killed two residents in nearby Shawnee.
“This is a strong community with strong character,” President Obama said at a press conference with Gov. Mary Fallin by his side. “There’s no doubt they will bounce back. But they need help.”
And help was already heavily evident around Moore where a week ago 24 perished, including 10 children. More than 12,000 homes were destroyed. Volunteers from across the nation arrived with ‘Disaster Relief’ emblazoned on their trucks, trailers, and vans.
“We have much to do,” Gov. Fallin said during her moment at the church’s podium. “This has certainly been a trying time for our state. The loss of life was traumatic for us. It’s been a sad week.”
Some of the sadness is being assuaged by an announcement from the Obama administration that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has earmarked $57 million in rebates and incentives to begin the rebuilding of storm shelters, which played such a vital role for many of the survivors.
Disasters of this magnitude are fairly common in Oklahoma, according to FEMA, and the state suffers a disproportionate share of disasters, and is number one when it comes to deadly twisters. Of the 25 counties that have been declared disasters, the most times since 1953, nine are in Oklahoma, the most of any state.
But the resilience of residents here is remarkable. This point was stressed by Gov. Fallin, and it was echoed resoundingly by a community choir comprised of members from several local churches. The harmonious emphasis on the third verse of ‘Amazing Grace,’ was particularly moving and inspirational for the audience: “The Lord has promised good to me/ His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be/as long as life endures.”
Life clearly endures in Moore and the rebuilding of homes has already begun in sections of the community and the convoy of volunteers, including a delegation of Black teenagers from Alabama, is a strong indication that it won’t be long before Moore is once again a thriving community.
But before Moore can thrive again, it must bury its dead.
Funeral services for Ja’Nae Hornsby, the nine-year-old African American killed in the tornado, will be at 11 am Friday at Fairview Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Her body, the first identified casualty, was found in the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Her aunt, Angela Hornsby, talked about her niece Sunday on Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive” radio program
“She had a two-year-old sister, who she was being raised with (they were living in the same home together) that she was very close to. She was a good big sister,” Angela Hornsby said. “I had them the weekend before the tragedy. Ja’Nea doted on her sister and her sister looked up to her. They were so wonderful to watch together.”
Hornsby said the family has set up a special page on Facebook: The Ja’Nae Hornsby Family Fund to receive comments and donations.
“In addition to our greatest loss of all, which is our baby, my brother even lost his home in the tornado,” she said. Hornsby said she helped select an outfit for Ja’Nae’s funeral.
“She was the everything of this family,” Hornsby said of her niece. “She was a typical nine-year-old girl. They would come over, put on wigs, I would dress her up and she would sing different songs and record herself on the cellphone. She liked to be the center of attention. She always had a song or a dance. She was very sweet, a very good student—a smart girl. My father is a pastor and she loved to be in church and the choir. She was a good girl, a very good girl.”