Oklahoma Tragedy

25 May 2013

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By Ekerete Udoh

Ms. Summers, (not her real name), 34, is up and  busy fixing breakfast for her son-‘Angle’-aged 5. All around the house, there is joy and excitement as is always the case every morning. Little Angle unlike a lot of kids  who are given to truancy or some degree of tardiness is always excitedly looking forward to school. “Thank you mummy for helping me with my assignment last night” Angle had told the mum between mouthfuls of cereal. ” You are welcome my darling.” The happy mum had intoned. “Baby, don’t you think we should ask Angle to take a day off today, considering the tornado warning” –Mr. Jones (not the real name (Angle’s father and Summer’s husband had asked, a little worried.  “Honey, the school system would have cancelled school today if they thought the kids would be in harm’s way. The tornado shelter will provide a safe haven for the kids if and when it touched down.” Summer had reassured her husband. “Okay darling, I trust your judgment.” It’s 8.00am and Angel is dropped off at the Plaza Tower Elementary School with kisses of love from her mum. “See you later sweetheart, “ the mum had told the son as she watched him walked gingerly into his classroom.

A few hours later, the worst fears any parent could entertain had happened!  Angel, the brilliant,  precocious young lad, the only son of the parents, was killed alongside other kids in what probably is the worst tornado  disaster to have hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma in history, leaving in its wake a destruction of biblical proportions and tears and pain that will be difficult to bear. A section of the town measuring over two miles radius was eviscerated and left in piles of rubbles, destroying lives, memories and sending back thousands of families to the starting block of life- a journey most had completed several decades prior.

The above story was told to me, by a former friend who had lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma and whom I had visited in the summer of 1999 and was now living in Moore, Oklahoma, but was lucky to have been spared the horrors of the tornado destruction, because her side of the town was not affected by the tornado.

The chore that Ms. Summers had performed on May 20 is one that most of us had done on several occasions. I remember doing same for my daughter-Ekaete Bukola Udoh (yes, my daughter is half-Ibibio and half Yoruba! Eat your hearts out all you ethnic jingoists saber rattlers who are invoking or employing the metaphor of war come 2015 if power is not returned to certain regions! My generation and our kids, have crossed those ethnic lines in our marriages  and relationships and good luck  to you when you pick up the AK-47 to shoot down your in-laws come 2015) in 1994 at the Opebi Road based Chrisland School and to imagine going back to pick up your daughter and to be greeted with heaps of metals and other debris; the specter reminding you of a war zone and knowing that your child is buried under that rubble – dead is heart-wrenching experience you wouldn’t wish upon your rabid enemy.

Watching the extent of destruction, the awe inspiring wrath of mother- nature and the I equally nspiring sprit of altruism on the part of American people- the coming together of all as one-united in grief and stress, the effective use of the apparatus and instruments of government to reassure the people that they are not alone or to use President Obama’s words, that the long road to recovery would “not be traveled alone”, the use of technology to mitigate the loss of lives, you are left with a sense of foreboding should such, were to happen in your country, Nigeria.

It is a known fact that mother nature probably acutely aware of the limits of our resources or the challenges we face in containing natural disasters had spared us some of the horrendous disasters that have made the United States  their permanent home-so to speak.  In the past decade, mother nature had visited its anger on several parts of the U.S. leaving behind trails of tears and destruction-from Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans, to Hurricane Sandy that hit us last year on the East coast which we are yet to fully recover from ( what’s it with all these female -oriented  labeled natural disasters?) and each time, the American people aided by the massive reach of government (Republicans, I hope you now know that government, is a desired element in our lives. I am watching to see if Senators Coburn and Inhofe of Oklahoma would vote against federal government assistance to their state now that they have been visited by natural disaster as they did, with Hurricane Sandy, a decision they justified on the fabled ‘big government’.)

The question now remains: how prepared are we if we are confronted with natural disasters of the kind that have ravaged the United States in the past one year?  what is the state of preparedness of our metallurgical service  and its capacity to predict some of these natural disasters as a way of warning Nigerians about impending natural doom as  the American National Weather Service were able to do, and predicted the tornado and storms up to minute of landfalls? How equipped is our national emergency agency to deal with natural disasters? These are issues our policy makers and lawmakers should urgently begin to address if there are deficiencies in these areas.

Mother Nature as can be seen in the destruction she has wrought in the U.S can be unpredictable and non-selective in manners of operation. That we have been spared major disasters all these years should not lull us into a false sense of comfort, thinking that we are immune to such attacks from nature. I don’t want to buy into the pessimistic, if not dim, view a Nigerian Diaspora based in Texas had told me the other day to the effect “that if the tornado had landed in Nigeria, I can bet you thousands of lives and untold amount of property would have been destroyed because our weather forecasters would have been unable to predict and adequately warn Nigerians of the strength and ferocity of the tornadoes. Innocent Nigerians would have been trapped and killed in thousands.” I know we are making incremental steps in certain areas of our national life, but our weather forecasters must update their skills -set and be in compliance with the best practices in the industry and the current technology must as a matter of urgency be updated.  That we have been spared so far does not mean we may not be attacked by the force of nature.

…Obama, natural disasters and ‘help from above’

President Obama sure seems to have a way with natural disasters. Call me a conspiracy theorist and I would not be mad at you, because in this instance, facts will bear me out.

Late last October, as the presidential campaign was entering its last lap and the polls had given the Republican Mitt Romney a sizeable lead outside of the margin f error, and there was sorrow and consternation in the Democratic firmament about a possible Mitt Romney win; just when the Republican  candidate was gathering big momentum, mother nature intervened and brought us Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the entire East coast.

Suddenly, the news media cycle that was dominated by the big momentum of Mitt Romney disappeared form the cycle and Americans came together as one-as they always do during national disasters. The narrative was changed from voters trending Republicans to Americans coming together and Obama, using the White Houses’ bully pulpit,  to rally the nation and acted not as a Democratic presidential candidate but an American president and Commander -in -Chief.

Mitt Romney suddenly found himself at sea politically speaking. Americans don’t take it kindly to candidates who exploit national tragedies for political advantage. Mitt suddenly did not  wish to be seen to be more about  his ambition of winning the presidency by engaging in attacks of the Obama‘s administration. Mitt Romney’s hitherto main supporter-the voluble New Jersey Governor-Chris Christie suddenly became Obama’s number one enthusiast, crowing about the leadership the president had shown in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy attack. The rest is history as Obama coasted to a landslide victory through Electoral College.

Now fast forward to this week. For the past one week, as I wrote on this page last week, the Republicans felt they had gotten Obama cornered and weakened with the politically motivated Benghazi probes, the IRS imbroglio and the AP correspondents’ telephone numbers the justice Dept had mined. Obama truly looked vulnerable and the scandals dominated the media cycles endlessly. You couldn’t watch anything else on cable or the regular network channels or the newspapers without the drip-drip of those scandals, and…then, natural disaster , the eternal savior of Obama, showed up in all her majestic propensity and all of a sudden, the scandals  disappeared from the news channels only appearing spradically. The minds of Americans have been fixed on the natural disaster that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma and again Obama is acting presidential and all those who want to attack him stand the risk of being seen as overly political in the midst of national calamity.

Tomorrow, Obama will visit Moore, Oklahoma and would again employ the presidential bully pulpit and rally Americans together. There would be no politics played. Even though Oklahoma is the ‘reddest’ of the Red States with some of the most vitriolic haters of Obama in the Congress - Senators Inhofe and one-time friend, Coburn - these elected leaders from the state will stand side-by-side the president and the optics Americans will see would be a non-partisan, non-ideological coming together of leaders united in grief and promising to help with the awesome power of government. What a lucky man this Obama has been! Or don’t you agree?

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