Editor’s note: This is one of a regular series of monthly columns titled “Oklahoma Now” by Governor Mary Fallin.
May was a difficult, heart wrenching month for the state of Oklahoma. The lives of at least 40 men, women and children were cut short by tornadoes that ripped through towns and cities. Hundreds were injured, some severely. Almost 4,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
In the wake of these terrible storms, we saw suffering and loss. But we also saw something else: an Oklahoma Spirit that would not be broken and would not be defeated.
Resilience. Courage. Compassion. And above all, strength. Those were the defining characteristics of our state and its people at this crucial moment.
It was a time for loss; but it was also a time for hope and for pride in our Oklahoma heroes. First responders rushed to the scene, risking their own safety to pull people out of the wreckage of homes and buildings.
Teachers used their bodies as shields to protect children from falling debris as an EF5 tornado raged above their schools.
Families took complete strangers into their homes to offer them shelter from the storm, or a warm meal and a place to stay in its aftermath.
Thousands of volunteers from all over Oklahoma and all over the country rushed to affected areas to help with the clean-up effort.
And millions of Americans have donated money, food, clothing and other goods through faith-based or non-profit organizations to provide relief and aid in recovery.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, the full spectrum of resources from local, state and federal governments will be marshaled to ensure that Oklahomans recover and rebuild.
Over 6,000 Oklahomans have registered for direct assistance from FEMA and more than $4.6 million have already been distributed to many of those individuals.
The Legislature passed and I signed into law a bill directing $45 million to be transferred from the state Rainy Day account to the Emergency Fund, where it can reimburse communities for their response to the storm.
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce will soon begin hiring for up to 1,000 new temporary positions to aid in cleanup and recovery work paid for through a federal grant.
And, of course, organizations like the Red Cross, the United Way and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma continue to supplement the efforts of the state, offering help and support to those affected by the May tornadoes.
As a result, cities and towns like Moore, Oklahoma City, El Reno, Union City, Shawnee, Bethel Acres, Carney, Newcastle, Little Axe and other affected areas will once again be open for business.
For many Oklahomans, this comes as no surprise. We have faced our share of challenges, even tragedies. We recover and rebuild, and we grow stronger.
But for millions of people around the world, watching on T.V. and seeing the remarkable strength and resilience of our people for perhaps the first time, the Oklahoma Spirit was nothing short of miraculous.
That is and should be a source of pride for every Oklahoman. Because even in the face of a devastating natural disaster, there was never really any question as to how the people of this great state would respond.
We will unite, we will heal together and we will rebuild. We will do all of these things because we are, and always will be, Oklahoma Strong.