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Some Ohio State students return to Oklahoma to help repair tornado-struck community

A tornado touches down in Oklahoma in spring 2013. Credit: Courtesy of John Banghoff

A tornado touches down in Oklahoma in Spring 2013.
Credit: Courtesy of John Banghoff

After witnessing a tornado in Oklahoma last May, a group of Ohio State students chose to head back this spring break to help rebuild the community.

Members of the Buckeyes for Moore group traveled to help restore parts of the community in Moore, Okla., that were hit by tornadoes in May. Three of the group’s members were in Moore chasing tornados when the storms hit last year, which was what inspired them to return.

John Banghoff, a third-year in atmospheric sciences and organizer of this year’s trip, said last May, a group of 10 OSU meteorology students went to Oklahoma for a storm-chasing trip. They were not optimistic about seeing many storms because that spring had been inactive, Banghoff said.

“As the trip got closer the ingredients came together and the trip turned into the trip of a lifetime,” Banghoff said. “It was phenomenal seeing the tornado form, touch down and grow in a matter of minutes.”

Gayland Kitch, the director of emergency management for Moore, Okla., said the tornado that hit last spring had detrimental effects on the community. Twenty people died in Moore, including seven at an elementary school, Kitch said.

“It was an EF5-rated tornado.” Kitch said in an email. “More than a thousand homes and 60 businesses were destroyed with an excess of 12,000 truckloads of debris removed.”

Banghoff said his initial excitement about seeing the tornado was soon replaced by fear and anxiety about the developing situation. The group of students began brainstorming ways to help the community of Moore at the time, but they realized it would be hard to help because there was already local support developing.

“The Buckeyes for Moore idea was formed and we pledged to maintain long term connections between Ohio State’s campus and the citizens of Moore, Oklahoma,” Banghoff said. “We weren’t sure how we would help long term but thought a return trip would happen in the next year.”

Eleven students from the OSU Meteorology Club traveled to Moore this past Saturday and plan to return to Columbus from the trip this Saturday. They planned to team up with the Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity, which serves Moore, and stay at Church of the Harvest in Oklahoma City.

They’re working on projects to help rebuild nine houses directly impacted by the Moore tornado that some of the students saw firsthand last May. The trip cost $375 per person and covered transportation, lodging and food, but did not cover any additional donations for Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity.

“We are so excited to be able to give back, to help rebuild the town that was leveled just nine months ago, and to join with the Ohio State community to support the continued efforts of the Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity,” Banghoff said.

In addition to helping the community of Moore, the students toured the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Many storm and severe weather forecasting comes out of the facility, so Trent Davis, a third-year in atmospheric sciences, said that visit was every meteorology student’s dream.

Davis was not on the trip last May but said after seeing the pictures and hearing about the experiences of his peers, he wanted to do what he could to help. Davis said before the trip he was excited for the experience.

“It will be a great experience as we will likely witness things that we never imagined and thought possible,” he said. “I know it will awaken me into realizing just how precious life is.”

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