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Rep. Cole Is From Moore, Where Deadly Twister Hit


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Moore, Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City suburb most devastated by yesterday's tornado, is the hometown of the man we'll talk with next. Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole is on the line. Congressman, I'm sorry for the occasion but welcome back to the program.

REP. TOM COLE: Yeah, Steve, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Is your family OK?

COLE: Fortunately, yes. My home and my wife was in it. It's about three blocks north of the worst devastated area. The one in '99 went just north of us, this one went just south of us. So, we've been very blessed twice.

INSKEEP: That is amazing to think about that, though, that you're in a neighborhood where perhaps there is not so much damage but that if you took a short walk, you'd be in an area which we've seen the images, we've seen on television, we've seen on the Internet. Everything is devastated.

COLE: Oh, it's a minute walk from the house. I mean, I could literally look on television and see the homes of friends that I've known all my life, businesses that I frequent, the schools that I, you know, I've actually worked on as a groundskeeper when I was a kid; put myself through college. It's just absolutely devastating.

INSKEEP: One of the schools that was damaged or destroyed, you worked on as a groundskeeper at one point?

COLE: No, both of them. Yeah, Plaza Towers I know very well. It's also a polling place and my mom was the mayor of Moore and local state representative in Center. I've gone there many, many a time to pick up precinct results at the end of elections. So, yeah, it's about a mile and a half from where I live.

You know, and it actually is the most secure building in the area. All those kids come from - excuse me - immediately around the area and, you know, it's reinforced walls are in the interior, and I'm sure a decision was made, particularly when you only have 15, 16 minutes. They got some kids out and others, this is the safest place for you to be. And it really was. But if you're above ground when an F4 or 5 rolls through, there's just not a lot that can protect you. There just aren't structures that can stand up to that kind of force.

INSKEEP: All right. I've got to tell you, I was surprised that even a school building would be this completely destroyed. I would of assumed that it would just take an awfully strong tornado to do that.

COLE: Well, it is. It's at least an F4, and we won't know for several days. We're very fortunate in the sense that the National Severe Storm Center is immediately south in Norman, Oklahoma. We actually get the best warning and the best science and protection that anybody can offer. But, again, when - I've seen these things in '99, but this one's even worse. And there's just not anything that's built by man that stands up to something like this.

INSKEEP: What does the community need now?

COLE: You know, the first thing is prayer. And that'd be the first thing that they would tell you. The second thing is, please, if you're not a first responder, don't come. You know, the people that are on-ground really are very good at what they're doing, and let them do it. And third, help, you know, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the standard - they are there in force and they'll do a great job. And finally, just remember this is just like Katrina or Sandy, that these people are going to need help longer-term. They're tough, they're tenacious, they're extraordinarily resilient, but they'll need help getting back up on their feet. And I talked to the president last night, I know the help will be there.

INSKEEP: You talked to the president last night. What was the conversation like?

COLE: I did. He was very kind. You know, he'd already talked to the governor. He called me in my office. He knew where I'd be. And he immediately - and first thing was, I just want you to know that Michelle and I are praying for you guys and are worried about you. And ticked off very quickly that the assets were available and FEMA and North Comm and said, you know, you're going to have everything you need and if something - you have a problem, just call me directly at the White House. It was exceptionally kind, thoughtful and gracious call.

INSKEEP: If a few seconds, do you expect that the people of that area of Oklahoma will need help from the federal government and from Congress?

COLE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, there's no question. This is a major disaster. This is what disaster relief is for. Well, I frankly, am very proud I voted for Sandy relief. I actually made the comment, you know, we're only one tornado away from being Joplin. I just didn't know it'd be quite this quick.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

COLE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Tom Cole is a Republican congressman who lives in Moore, Oklahoma, which was devastated by yesterday's storm. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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