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Amid Nails And Mud, Oklahoma Neighborhood Pulls Together

Brian Hock was standing Wednesday evening in what used to be his home but is now 2,000 square feet of nothing. Still resting in a bag of dog food was the cup he uses to scoop kibble, emblazoned with the slogan "Fear not: God's love shines bright."

Hock was at work Monday when the tornado smashed his house in the Heatherwood subdivision of Moore, Okla. He says his daughters survived only because neighbors invited them to share a custom shelter.

Several residents in the neighborhood along Southeast Fourth Street have similar stories. Their section of Heatherwood was built about 11 years ago. It will all have to be rebuilt now.

A dusty TV screen is seen in a home in the Heatherwood subdivision in Moore, Okla., on Wednesday, damaged by the tornado that hit Monday.
/ Katie Hayes Luke for NPR
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR
A dusty TV screen is seen in a home in the Heatherwood subdivision in Moore, Okla., on Wednesday, damaged by the tornado that hit Monday.

Some walls remain standing, but many houses have been destroyed. At one house, a crushed pickup truck is all that's keeping a garage roof from collapsing completely to the ground.

At another, people passing by along the street can see into the remains of a living room, where a brown couch faces a flat-screen TV that's caked with dust but still hanging on the wall.

Many houses are now simply unrecognizable piles of debris.

Matt Claxton said he thought his neighbor Stan might have been kidding when he emerged from his shelter and announced, "My truck is upside down on top of my neighbor's house." But the pickup truck is still there.

National Guardsmen and police arrived in the area about 15 minutes after the storm hit, Claxton says. Not long after, someone heard the voices of an older couple trapped in their house up the block. Everyone dropped what they were doing to run and help, he says, estimating that 20 people began pulling away rubble.

It's just stuff. The memories are in our heads and in our hearts.

Along with Hock and a few other residents, Claxton put on heavy work gloves Wednesday night to start carting away piles of debris. Neighbors cautioned one another to watch out for the nails that seemed to be sticking up from pieces of wood everywhere you looked.

Claxton's brick home is a total loss. He points to a corner of bare foundation where he used to keep a desk and pay his bills. A native of the area, he's not sure he'll rebuild on the same lot.

Still, Claxton says he feels lucky. He and his wife rode out the storm along with their two dogs.

"It's just stuff," he says. "The memories are in our heads and in our hearts."

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Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.
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