Oklahoma tornado victims start to dig out
Oklahoma City Angie’s List member Greg Begay says he didn’t know who to turn to for help in removing the massive amount of debris left on his mother’s property, following the May 31 EF-5 tornado that destroyed her Moore home and left the woman severely injured. “She was in very critical condition after the tornado,” he says of his 90-year-old mother, who remains in a long-term care nursing home facility. “She’s improving now, but she hasn’t been able to communicate.”
The same day he reached out to Angie’s List for help to find a company to remove the debris, Begay says a volunteer church group showed up and offered to move remnants of the home’s roofing and walls to the curb, but also retrieve some of his mother’s clothing, furniture and photos. Begay, who’s working with his sister to handle the cleanup, also hired a crew from Mashburn Faires Homes in Oklahoma City to demolish the remaining foundation, cut down a damaged tree and remove a destroyed fence. “With all this going on, I’m happy to pay someone to take over,” he says. “I just want to get this taken care of for her. It’s a lot to handle.”
To help ease the debris-removal process, Kelly Collins, communications director for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, says nearly 75 percent of Moore, Oklahoma City and Shawnee residents have worked with volunteers, family and friends to move debris to the curb, where city employees pick it up free of charge. “As long as there is a need, the city will continue to pick it up,” she says.
However, the three cities have different requirements for pickup. In Moore, officials ask that homeowners place the debris on the curb in one pile. If the debris is not picked up within a week, Collins suggests calling the city to report it.
Oklahoma City residents need to sort the debris into three separate piles. The first should only include tree limbs, construction materials, destroyed personal property and electronics. Refrigerators or freezers, or anything containing Freon, should be placed in a second pile, but Collins says residents should remove any food and the appliance doors before setting them out. The final pile may include household hazardous waste, such as propane tanks, batteries, chemicals and gasoline.
Shawnee also collects debris from the curb in three categories — woody and vegetative debris, such as tree trunks and limbs, in the first pile; household hazardous waste in the second; and construction and personal materials in the third.
Collins says homeowners have four options for moving debris to the curb for free pickup — do it themselves, seek help from volunteers, wait for the city to do it, or hire a private contractor. She knew of one volunteer group, Mormon Helping Hands, offering its services by calling 405-794-5414.
For the city to move the debris, homeowners must fill out a right-of-entry form that gives the city permission to enter the property, do the work and absolves the homeowner from any liability if a worker sustains injury, Collins says. Although each city is different, she says the average wait time is about a week. Homeowners can download the right-of-entry form online, or fill out the form in person at the following locations:
• Moore Recycling Center, 400 N. Telephone Road, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week; or www.cityofmoore.com
• Oklahoma City Resident Outreach Office, on the South Penn Campus of the Moore Norman Technology Center, 13301 S. Pennsylvania Ave., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; or www.okc.gov
• Shawnee residents must call 405-878-1760 for specific instructions.
Collins says private contractors hired by storm victims can work directly with the homeowners’ insurance company for payment, or the homeowner can pay them directly. Any contractor doing demolition work needs a permit from the city, but the fees are waived for tornado victims, she says.
Hunter Magness, owner of highly rated Junk Boss in Oklahoma City, says he currently has a two- to three-day wait for customers who hire him to remove debris. "As long as you get your personal belongings out that you want, we'll take care of the rest," he says, adding that he charges $450 a load. He says most tornado victims need two loads removed, although one recent homeowner filled six loads.
Begay says his family still needs to decide whether to rebuild his mother's home, but they’re waiting for her condition to improve before proceeding. At his own home, less than two miles away, the tornado damaged his roof, destroyed a storage facility, and he lost all of the food in his refrigerator and freezer because the power remained out for a week. He says he’s using Angie’s List to find a good roofer, storm shelter company and window cleaner. “A tornado shelter is an absolute must from now on,” he says.