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A Week Later: Penn State Grads Assess Damage From Monster Tornado

by on May 30, 2013 10:13 AM

“It was definitely strange,” says Scott Hammerstedt. “And a little bit scary. You certainly don’t expect to see something like that.”

Hammerstedt, a native of Boalsburg, is talking about what it's like to be in the middle of a disaster zone. He and his wife, Jessica Burgett, work just a few miles from Moore, Okla., the town that was raked by that devastating tornado a week ago.

The violent storm killed 24 people and bulldozed through several hundreds homes.

“I’m not sure that any other place would have been able to respond so quickly and efficiently,” says Burgett. The Penn State graduate is an academic counselor with the University of Oklahoma’s College of Arts and Sciences. She says, “People have acted very swiftly and cohesively.”

Hammerstedt earned his doctorate at Penn State. He's now a member of the archaeology research faculty at the University of Oklahoma, a short drive from Moore. Hammerstedt says he was taken aback by what he saw in the storm ravaged town.

He says the streets are mostly cleared of debris but the rest of the area is “just flat.” Piles of rubble litter the area. Some driving lanes remain closed and many power lines are still down.

Burgett has also lived out west in Oregon and Washington, but there’s just something different about the mid-west.

“Since I’ve been in Oklahoma, I’ve noticed a real ‘pull yourself up and deal with it’ type of attitude. People who live here are mentally and physically tough.”

Two of Burgett's co-workers lost their homes to the twister. Burgett and fellow university counselors quickly began donating items to make sure both families have enough clothes and supplies to get through the next few weeks.

The two families are working through some problems with insurance companies, but Burgett said one couple’s spirits were lifted when a husband found his wife’s wedding ring while going through piles of rubble.

“It’s not the best situation to be in, but that was definitely a nice surprise for them.”

The Moore Medical Center has to be demolished, but a movie theatre next to the medical center was able to reopen Wednesday. Hammerstedt says there are still people picking through rubble.

In the aftermath of the powerful tornado Hammerstedt has watched the community come together. People are making donations. Benefit concerts are in the works including one at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which is the home of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team.

Hammerstedt's office overlooks Oklahoma dormitories that are currently serving as temporary shelter for 300 victims and an additional 300 first responders.

At the University of Oklahoma, a sense of normalcy has returned. Burgett has assisted a few students who needed to withdraw from summer courses because the tornado left them without transportation.

Burgett and Hammerstedt are part of a group of faculty and graduate students that will be in Moore on Saturday to help with the relief effort.

“I’m really impressed with the general outpouring,” Burgett said. “The relief fund has been overwhelmingly positive.

Unfortunately, the threat of more tornadoes comes with the territory for people living in Oklahoma. Additional storms could be in the forecast this coming week and that's keeping residents on their toes.

“We’re a little more on edge,” Hammerstedt admitted. “Everyone is keeping one eye on the radar.”

“Still though, we want to help. We’re going to try to get out there in a large group and do what we can.”

Click HERE to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Previous story on Oklahoma Tornado: Oklahoma Tornado Disaster Hits Close to Home for Penn State Graduates



Drew Balis is a Penn State graduate, freelance reporter and frequent contributor to StateCollege.com.
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