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Many storm-ravaged local businesses have rebounded with the help of the communities of Moore

Mark Beutler November 27th, 2013

Driving the stretch of Interstate 35 through Moore, it is difficult to imagine the destruction left just a few months ago. Six months after an EF-5 tornado ripped through the area on May 20, signs of life are everywhere. Businesses have re-opened, houses and neighborhoods are going up and residents are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“We are doing really well,” said Shanain Kemp, event coordinator at Orr Family Farm. “It was incredible that day to go into the shelter and walk out 20 minutes later to see the utter devastation. You never really think the storm will actually hit you. But thank God we were able to walk out, and it’s a blessing to have received so much help and love from the community.”

Orr Family Farm suffered extensive damage, some of which is still visible. “If you look closely, you can still see signs of the destruction. We have some large trees with metal still embedded in them,” Kemp said. “Most of the issues we are facing now, however, are cosmetic. Since our busy fall season is over, we will concentrate on things like mending and building fences.”

Typically, Kemp says autumn is their busiest time, and when the tornado hit, they had to scramble to repair as much damage as they could in a short amount of time.

“Fall is our most popular time of year, so all summer, we concentrated on getting things back in shape,” she said. “We had an amazing fall season and even set a record in October. We had so much help from the community that we felt like we needed to give back, so we decided to stay open on Sundays.

“The response was overwhelming,” Kemp said. “It feels so great to have people come up and say thank you for re-opening. For many, this is a family tradition and a place where they make wonderful memories. So we have been blessed to get back to sort of where we were before the storms.”

Community lift During the 39 minutes the tornado was on the ground, it killed 25 people, including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School. At its peak, it was nearly 1.5 miles wide and cut a 17-mile path of destruction.

Entire neighborhoods and businesses were obliterated. Mark Shuman, owner of the popular restaurant chain Van’s Pig Stand, lost his Moore location.

“We are rising up out of the ground,” Shuman said. “We began dirt work in August on a new location, and in mid-November, we started seeing the first steel go up. We are building a retail center, and Van’s will be the anchor. Other businesses looking at the center include a doughnut shop on the other end and possibly a barber or beauty shop.”

Several employees from the Moore store have remained with Shuman, working at his other locations, and he hopes to have other employees return as well.

“We decided to rebuild in a new location at 19th [Street] and Tower [Drive], which is about five blocks east of I-35,” Shuman said. “I am putting in a really large shelter, sort of swimming pool size, for Van’s employees and customers and also plan to put in a shelter for the other tenants in the remaining part of the complex.”

Several calls come in each day from customers in the Moore area wanting to place orders, Shuman says, and he hopes to have the new restaurant open by January or February.

Deidre Ebrey, director of economic development and marketing for the city, said businesses and homeowners have made a remarkable recovery.

“Of the 1,100-plus homes that were completely destroyed, more than 330 have applied for a building permit,” Ebrey said. “We have issued 420 remodel permits, and in addition to the ‘build-backs,’ we have issued 126 permits for new single-family homes that were not in the devastated area. Our retail sales tax revenue, which was down 13 percent right after the storm, has rebounded with double-digit growth each month since June.”

Some estimates place the destruction of the storms at more than $2 billion, and Ebrey said the costs are still coming in.

“Debris clean-up was nearly $15 million. Of that, close to 80 percent was covered by the federal government; 12.5 percent is covered by the state of Oklahoma. And the City of Moore incurred $895,000 in overtime. Equipment costs to the city include damage to city vehicles, street signs, street lights and outdoor warning sirens, among other things,” she said.

“We did the best we could in the situation we were given, and the outpouring of love and generosity we have seen has truly been amazing.”

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