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Overshadowed By Moore, Carney, Okla. Recovers From Twister


On a Monday, Memorial Day, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Our colleague Steve Inskeep is on a reporting assignment in Syria. When President Obama went to Oklahoma yesterday, he toured the city of Moore, where 24 people died and hundreds were injured in last Monday's tornado. That twister was unleashed during an outbreak of dangerous weather in the country's heartland.

And as it turns out, a day before the destruction in Moore, another tornado hit 50 miles to the northeast in the small rural community of Carney. Fortunately, no one died there, but three dozen homes were damaged or destroyed, a big blow to a tiny town. NPR's Pam Fessler paid Carney a visit.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: The first thing you notice about Carney is the horizon outside of town where smoke billows from a half dozen bonfires. It's burning brush and debris from crushed homes. The land here is open and wide, and exposed. So when a tornado hits, it can scatter a family's belongings everywhere, like the seeds of a dandelion.

Scores of people this weekend combed through broken trees and shrubs, looking for things to salvage - shoes, money, photos, important papers. High school senior Brynna Bunyard reads from a letter found tangled in the brush.

BRYNNA BUNYARD: I really miss everyone and can't wait to get back. I really miss everyone from Carney, especially my little sister.

FESSLER: The letter was written two years ago, on the Fourth of July, by someone in the Army who clearly missed home.

BUNYARD: And then on the back it's a prayer. But you can't really read it because of all the mud. It's just a prayer. It says: Dear Lord, please watch my sisters because I can't be there so she has someone to - talk to maybe?

FESSLER: Nearby, much of the Knox family's modular home and its contents are strewn across the hillside. Jessica Knox says they lost just about everything, except each other.

JESSICA KNOX: My kitchen's here and my bathroom was here and then my bedroom was down there. So it's very odd how it landed.

FESSLER: She says in six seconds the tornado wiped out what it took years for her, her husband and their four children to build. It also destroyed her father's, her sister-in-law's and her father-in-law's homes, all nearby. Four in one family hit by the storm. But Knox says miraculously she looked and found a silver necklace with a locket containing some of her mother's ashes.

KNOX: And I said there's a chance. I was like, Mom, please just let me find you. And we were about a foot and a half, two feet in dirt, and I just saw a piece of the chain and we found it. So I told my boys, I said we have Grandma's big toe.

FESSLER: There was a story going around that people here felt abandoned, with all the attention and resources going to the City of Moore. But Knox says she doesn't feel that at all. Just look at all these people helping out.

KNOX: And I don't know hardly anyone.

THE REV. PHILLIP NEWLUN: They're working on it as fast as they can.

FESSLER: Downtown, at the First Assembly of God church, minister Phillip Newlun is coordinating volunteers and donations. Which are abundant. Newlun says he understands why most of the attention is on places that were harder hit.

NEWLUN: You know, we're a town of 640 people.

FESSLER: But he says Carney does have challenges that more urban areas do not.

NEWLUN: Carney has no rental property, so when you loose 20 homes, we can't afford to loose 20 families here in this town. So our big thing is trying to get housing available and get containers.

FESSLER: He says secure containers are needed to store all these donations and salvaged belongings so when people do get back into their homes they have something to fill them with.

NEWLUN: We live in rural America so basically if you ain't got it in a tub six months from now, it's going to be worthless with the rodents and stuff like that. So the containers were important to us, the tubs are important to us.

FESSLER: Carney does have something that the city of Moore does not - safe rooms in its local schools. That's where most people sought refuge Sunday night. Only one person in town was seriously injured. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.