Rep. Tom Cole’s hometown was ravaged by a powerful tornado yesterday, and the congressman described a destruction he never thought he see.
Moore, Okla., the epicenter of destruction and tragedy in the Oklahoma storms, is the Republican representative’s hometown. His parents are buried there; his grandparents are buried there.
“I never thought I’d see anything worse than I saw in 1999, this is our fourth [tornado] in 15 years,” the Oklahoma Republican said Tuesday on Morning Joe. “This is even worse in terms of loss of life, and I’ve been talking to friends and family and officials on the ground and that number is gonna get worse.”
The death toll is officially 24, but it is expected to change in the coming hours. Hospitals reported nearly 150 being treated for injuries.
Cole, speaking by phone, walked Morning Joe through the ravaged area.
“My wife is less than a mile from where you’re standing,” Cole told hosts hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “Moore’s been home for more than 50 years.”
Moore saw its hospital destroyed and one elementary school, Plaza Towers, ravaged, leaving parents frantic to find their children. One witness recalled pulling a car off a teacher from the front hall of the school, who was shielding three small children with her body.
“Plaza Towers, it’s just—oh my god. Those teachers and students did everything right,” Cole said. The school doubled as a local polling place and Cole recalled visiting the school hundreds of times with his mother, a local politician. “I used to do the grounds-keeping there when I was a kid, put myself through college.”
“The school was honestly the best place for those kids to be in that square mile area. It’s the strongest structure, with reinforced interior halls.”
The destroyed hospital was a big boon of pride for the city, Cole said.
“The town went a long time without one, so we were very proud to have it,” he said. “We were very fortunate there that all the patients and medical people go out. You look at the building and you wonder how in the world that happened.”
Moore, a city with more than 56,000 according to the 2010 census, is the seventh largest city in Oklahoma.
It isn’t a high-income area, Cole added.
“It’s a town full of really hardworking, really good people. They know about these things, they take warnings seriously,” he said. “People did everything right here, but if you’re in front of an F-4, an F-5, there is no good thing to do if you’re above ground.”