It's a question I've been asked countless times before and it's a question that I'm sure to hear many more times over the coming days, months, and years.
I was a college sophomore on May 3, 1999, the day that Moore became the poster child of tornado alley. I watched on television from a dorm 20 minutes away at Oklahoma City University as the mile-wide EF5 barreled straight toward my childhood home, where my parents were hunkered down in a closet. They narrowly survived that day and so did their home.
Fast forward 14 years and 17 days later. As a professor at my alma mater on summer vacation, I was spending the day at home with my 22-month-old son while my husband was at work in north Oklahoma City. My son was in his crib, doing his best to avoid his daily nap. It was a normal day. I was enjoying the beginning of my summer as a stay-at-home mom.
Growing up in Oklahoma, you learn to be "weather aware" at a young age, so I was watching the radar closely on the local television stations. "Severe thunderstorm warning" read the map in my county. I changed my son's diaper, got him out of his crib, and poured his cup of milk.
As that short period of time elapsed, the anxiety in the meteorologist's voice had grown. This storm had rotation. This ordinary thunderstorm had decided that it wanted to be extraordinary. Moore escalated to a "tornado watch," which quickly converted to a "tornado warning," which escalated even more quickly to a tornado on the ground in Newcastle. I readied our pantry, the most central location in our home, with pillows and blankets to cover our bodies and prepared to hunker down, much like my parents had more than a decade earlier.
I realized quickly, hearing the voice of the meteorologist, that spending this storm in a pantry was not going to cut it. He said that coming out of this storm alive meant being underground. Around that time an opportunity presented itself to join my friends at their parents' home just two blocks away. The tornado sirens were already blaring. I hesitated, but after a text from my husband made it through the already jammed cellular lines I made the decision to leave.
There we were: 15 people -- members of the neighborhood, many of us strangers until that moment -- and my two dogs, crammed together in a small in-ground storm shelter. We waited, relieved to be somewhere safe. It simultaneously felt like an eternity and an instant. We listened to the radio: "The tornado is approaching 4th and Bryant." We were located off of 1st and Bryant. I expected to hear the freight train cross over our heads at any moment. We waited. We listened. That train never came.
Aside from everything being covered with a stew of debris, insulation, and mud, we all emerged unscathed. Not only was I lucky enough to have my life and that of my son spared, we had a home.
I sit on my laptop now, looking at the walls of my home, reliving the horror of the scariest day of my life, fully realizing that my horror ends there, in the shelter, safe, grateful, and in disbelief. I pray for the others who were not so fortunate. Their nightmare continues. The park where we once took our son to play is rubble. The geography of the streets I've traveled for the majority of my life is unrecognizable. Yet my life remains virtually unchanged. But I am changed.
So back to the original question: Why would you live in Moore, Okla.? Natural disasters happen everywhere, from coast to coast of this country and from pole to pole of this planet. If we weren't dealing with tornadoes, then we might bear the burden of impending earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, or volcano eruptions. I received an incredible public school education in Moore from outstanding teachers, where my love of education and teaching others was first cultivated. My affection for dance developed at my dance studio, further shaping my future vocation. This is where I built my childhood memories and friendships, friendships that endure today. Our family lives here, my parents, my husband's parents and siblings, my grandmother, and our cousins, aunts, and uncles. I could go on and on listing the many reasons why I love Moore, but the overarching reason is this: This is my hometown. Love lives here.
People in Moore don't live their lives in fear. We aren't "dumb." We aren't "hillbillies." And we most certainly don't "deserve this." We wake up each day and get ready for work and school. We make our way home in the evening to share conversation around the dinner table with our families. We are just like you. We love our community. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years from today, you will more than likely find me here. Just one thing will have changed, I will never forget May 20, 2013, and the lessons I learned that day.
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