As Oklahomans know, tornadoes are common in our state, with dozens touching down throughout the state each year. But the 2013 tornado season was different. In Moore, OK, that year a category E5 tornado– the most powerful measure– hit with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour and led to the loss of more than 20 lives and destruction of more than 1,100 homes. The some $2 billion in residential and commercial devastation was unprecedented.
As we were planning our response to the disaster, we realized that we didn’t have the financial resources to do all that we wanted to do to help. That’s where having a relationship with NeighborWorks America was key. As preliminary damage estimates were coming in, we stayed in touch with NeighborWorks America and kept our focus on providing housing assistance. Our initial efforts focused on our housing counselors stepping in and helping homeowners navigate a dizzying array of forms, processes and guidelines required by various organizations. We learned from homeowners that the emotional impact of losing your home is almost impossible to imagine. Most homeowners are overwhelmed with that loss, which can make it difficult to shift gears to start the recovery process. Additionally, we worked to secure temporary and permanent housing. Using a $100,000 grant from NeighborWorks America and donations of 15 foreclosed properties by J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America, we were able to offer real, tangible housing help quickly. And, in months after the disaster, we worked with NeighborWorks America organizations to install storm shelters in existing homes and multi-family projects and include them in future developments.