Predicting the epicentre of a tornado before it happens is hazardous enough, like forecasting any natural disaster with great accuracy. The National Weather Service issued a warning to the people of Oklahoma City of an impending tornado approximately 16 minutes before it struck yesterday (a faster than average alert). Unsurprisingly, many people were still not expecting the two-mile wide force of nature which particularly devastated the Moore area of the city, leaving at least 24 dead and over 200 injured.
Oklahoma City is in “Tornado Alley”, a roughly defined geographical area between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains where tornadoes are most frequent. Yet meteorological experts shy away from such a definition. Tornadoes can strike almost anywhere at anytime across the US. Unlike other natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, rivers flooding their banks or even hurricanes (where coastal areas are always worst affected), it is impossible to locate yourself in a tornado “safety zone”. Therefore, it is monumentally bad luck when a city/town/village suffers a tornado’s consequences.
It is not the first time in recent history that Oklahoma City has been subjected to an event of random mayhem, and by this I am not simply referring to the May 2010 tornadoes that affected the Oklahoma area.
On 19th May 1995, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in the deadliest attack of domestic terrorism in American history. Although McVeigh’s target was carefully selected in that his “vengeance” was directed at the federal government, several hundred buildings across the country could have been chosen. It was Oklahoma City’s misfortune that he chose the target that he did.
At one point yesterday it seemed as if Oklahoma City was about to attain another dubious record; most fatalities caused by a tornado in American history. After pessimistic initial prognoses it seems that the death toll may end up being lower than first feared, although people are still likely to be buried amidst the rubble and debris.
In a world constrained by population pressure, more and more people are being killed or injured by natural disasters as they build properties in hazardous zones. Even in the developed world, the decision to build on historical flood plains, on cliff edges and along river banks accentuates likely casualty tolls. The victims in Moore and its surrounds cannot be accused of laxity or negligence.
It is proof that pure chance and force of circumstance dictate much of what we experience. Sometimes causes and motives are rendered irrelevant.
Despite his horrific deed, McVeigh professed to believe in a God. Fortunately, the majority of his victims, and those affected by yesterday’s tornado, profess a stronger conviction that will ensure that Oklahoma City always perseveres.