Jack Tame: Nature's ferocity leaves an indelible footprint


It was bumpy flying in. Of course it was. The sky had that same weighty blackness and distant light as the afternoon the tornado hit.

The flight attendant announced she'd do one last sweep for rubbish but, thrown by the lurching cabin, she turned back after row three.

"I pray everyone's homes are all right," she said, as we taxied to the gate.

The drive to Moore was through a weather event in itself. Fantastic veins of purple lightning snapped across the windshield and, even on full, the wipers couldn't keep up with the rain. Hands were at 10-to-two, attention was unfaltering and top speed was about 35km/h. I turned up a default country-music station a couple of full rotations to hear it over the noise.

"There's a severe thunderstorm warning in place between Tulsa and Oklahoma City," said the announcer.

Thanks for the heads-up.

The damage in Moore was awesome, at least for the buildings in the tornado's direct path. That's the funny thing about a tornado - it finely picks the buildings it destroys and leaves everything else comparatively well off.

Some homes had only been a little dirtied, with debris on their lawns and leaves in their gutters. No more than 100m away, their neighbours' homes were just splinters and mud.

The Christchurch earthquakes damaged from the ground up - lower storeys collapsed and upper storeys pancaked. Hurricane Sandy knocked out walls and flooded basements but left structures at least partially standing.

This was something different. A whipper-snipper from the sky.

Every building was reduced to the same low height and most were unrecognisable.

Debris was tossed anywhere. Scrap metal rested twisted in trees that had been stripped clean of their leaves and bark. I saw a giant manhole cover, weighing a good 200kg, sucked out of the ground by the air pressure like a plug in a bathroom sink.

I imagined a giant foot had stamped on Moore, grinding it into the earth like a smoker leaning on a butt.

"Oklahoma, where the wind comes ..."

It was as humbling as it was sad.

- Herald on Sunday

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