Moore, Oklahoma, May Be the Tornado Capital of America

In 1999, the Oklahoma town was hit with a tornado that clocked the highest winds ever on Earth—and it followed an eerily similar path to Monday’s twister. By Eliza Shapiro.

Is Moore, Oklahoma, the unluckiest town in America?

The suburb of Oklahoma City (population 55,000) was hit Monday with its fifth massive tornado in just 15 years. Early images of Moore on Monday afternoon showed horrifying scenes: blocks of flattened homes and debris, demolished hospitals and elementary schools, and burning buildings. The twister was recorded as a F4 tornado, the second-highest intensity on the Fujita scale.

But longtime residents of Moore are no strangers to the destruction of a powerful tornado. The town weathered one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded in 1999.

The May 3, 1999 twister lasted only an hour and 25 minutes, but was responsible for 41 deaths, 583 injures, and over $1 billion in damaged property. It was rated an F5, the most intense twister possible. It covered 61 miles in Moore and the surrounding towns before dissipating in Midwest City, Oklahoma. It destroyed over 8,000 homes, over 1,000 apartments, 260 businesses and several public buildings and churches.

The 1999 twister caused the fastest wind speed ever recorded on Earth up to that time: 318 miles per hour. In fact, it was a mega-tornado, a combination of 74 tornadoes that whipped through Oklahoma and Kansas.

A map comparing the 1999 and 2013 twisters shows the near-identical path the two destructive storms weaved through Moore, even completely overlapping for several blocks.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole lives in Moore and remembers the destruction of 1999 well. “This is actually my hometown,” he told CNN via phone from Washington D.C. on Monday. “I can literally recognize the homes and the businesses…Just looking at what I can judge from the photographs and the film, it may be worse than the one in ’99.”

In the immediate aftermath of the 1999 twister, FEMA dedicated millions of dollars for the recovery effort and thousands of volunteers from across the country traveled to Oklahoma to help with the cleanup effort.

When the next major tornado hit in May 2003, Moore had prepared.

Residents built storm shelters and 6,000 safe rooms, which are concrete bunkers built above ground that can withstand winds over 250 miles per hour, and cost about $5,000 to build. FEMA offered loans to help Oklahomans rebuild their homes with the next twister in mind. Inventors worked on tornado-safe beds, anchored by foam-lined steel bunkers instead of box springs. Researchers worked on stronger roofs and solid foundations for Moore homes.

It’s impossible to know how well that preparation has paid off. But Moore keeps finding itself in the center of some of the nation’s most destructive tornadoes.

On May 8, 2003, Moore was rocked by another intense tornado that destroyed over 300 homes and businesses. It covered 19 miles and left 145 people injured, although no one was killed. And on May 10, 2010, Moore was hit with yet another one.

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While the full extent of the damage wrought by Monday’s tornado is still unknown, Moore can count itself one of the most afflicted towns on Earth.