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An estimated $1.1 billion in damages occurred when massive tornadoes cut paths of destruction across Oklahoma and Kansas.

As many as 76 tornadoes hit the region on May 3, spawned from "supercell" thunderstorms that formed during the late afternoon.

The tornadoes' paths stretched more than 100 miles through 14 counties from southwest to northeast Oklahoma and as far north as Wichita, Kansas. At times, the twisters' paths of destruction were more than one-half mile wide.

In total, 742 people were injured and 41 people died from the storms, with five deaths occurring in Kansas. Damage estimates in Oklahoma show 2,314 homes were destroyed; 7,428 homes were damaged; 1,041 apartments were destroyed or damaged; 164 businesses destroyed; and 96 businesses were damaged. In Kansas, 420 homes, 27 businesses, and three churches were damaged or destroyed.

According to preliminary figures from Insurance Services Office, Inc's (ISO) Property Claim Services (PCS) Unit, Oklahoma received a record catastrophe loss of $955 million for insured property. Property losses in Kansas totaled $100 million.
The Oklahoma City area, including Moore, Midwest City, Bridge Creek and Del City, were hardest hit in the center of the state. Entire neighborhoods in these areas were destroyed. Some $775 million of the total damage in the state was sustained in this area.

Stroud, a small town just southwest of Tulsa, also received substantial damage, especially to businesses. Wichita and a suburb, Haysville, were heavily damaged in residential areas.

At least one tornado was classified as an F-5; others ranged from F-1 to F-4. The Fujita-Pearson Scale measures the strengths of tornadoes by assessing wind speeds, length and width of path on the ground, and damage. An F-5 is the most violent classification, with wind speeds reaching more than 260 miles per hour.

Overall, 11 counties in Oklahoma were declared federal disaster areas, with eight additional counties qualifying for partial assistance. In Kansas, one county was named a federal disaster area.

Town Takes Hard Economic Hit

The tornado that struck Stroud, Oklahoma, a small town just southwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma, left behind more than twisted metal and damaged homes. The town suffered a severe economic blow as a result of the tornadoes. The twisters took out three of Stroud's top four employers.


Tanger Outlet Center, a six-year old shopping center housing 53 retail shops, was completely destroyed by the tornado. Officials with the center have not announced whether the center will be rebuilt. A spokesman said in June that the company is still dealing with insurance matters and probably would not know its plans for at least a month. In the meantime, the center's 325 employees wait to see whether they'll continue in their jobs and the city of Stroud continues to lose thousands in sales tax revenue each month.

Tanger Outlet Center generated about $100,000 of the $150,000 monthly sales tax collected by the city.

"The economic impact will be devastating," said a city official in a published report.

Since the mall shut down, the city has had to cut services. The city is operating with an emergency reserve of money that should last about a year.

"After the 12 months, we don't know," said Stroud's special projects coordinator Randy Swinson in a previous newspaper report. "We'll have to rely on grants and start cutting back."

In recent months, Sygma Corporation and Integris Hospital - the other two top employers in Stroud who were hit hard by the tornado - have announced they will not continue their operations in the Stroud area.

Houston-based Sygma Network, Inc., who's food distribution center in Stroud was severely damaged, announced in June that it would not rebuild in the city. Instead, the company will be moving its warehouse operation to Pryor, Oklahoma.

"This is so disappointing." said Bruce Maddux, director of the Stroud Chamber of Commerce, in a published AP report.

The Sygma Network food distribution center in Stroud had just completed its 40,000-square-foot warehouse three months before the twister struck. The company employed 165 at the Stroud warehouse, all of whom have the option to follow the company to the new location in Pryor.

Integris Memorial Hospital, a 30-bed facility employing 60, has been closed since the May tornadoes ripped the roof from the building, allowing extensive water damage to occur inside.

Patients were transferred to neighboring hospitals in Bristow, Drumright and Prague, Oklahoma.

"The whole roof was removed." said Pat Blair, an admitting clerk for the hospital, "The rain poured in throughout the night, destroying walls, equipment, beds - everything inside."

Ms. Blair said the hospitals' records, backed up on microfiche and stored in the business office, survived.

The hospital in Stroud was built 20 years ago and since that time has been operated under the management of Integris Health. In early June, officials with Integris announced they would not reopen the hospital.

According to Ms. Blair, who has continued to work in the business office since the shutdown, the decision to pull out of the hospital was a direct result of the tornado.

"Management made the decision to pull out," she said "Their contract (with the city of Stroud) said they had 10 days to make up their minds whether to rebuild after an 'act of God'. They decided to pull out."

The city is hoping a new management firm will take over and reopen the hospital.

Integris Hospital, along with Sygma Corporation and the Tanger Outlet Center, account for almost 25 percent of Stroud's revenue from utilities.

Businesses in Other Areas Suffer Damage

While other areas in the twisters' paths may not have received quite as dramatic an economic blow, businesses in each area were destroyed or damaged and the economy has been affected.

In the Oklahoma City area, the American Freightways Corporation's trucking terminal was destroyed and two company employees were killed. Traffic bound for the OKC terminal has been rerouted through the firm's Tulsa terminal until the damaged one can be rebuilt.

Other businesses damaged in the storm include: Stevens Appliance, a Comfort Inn, a Clarion Inn, a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Bristol Station Restaurant, a Conoco station, and Rose State College.

A Hampton Inn in the Moore area was reduced to a mountain of rubble. Damaged cars were blown onto the second floor and into the hotel's swimming pool.

Hudiburg Chevrolet in Midwest City received as much as $5 million in damage. The huge auto complex had about 1,000 vehicles on display on their lot. Early estimates found 800 of them damaged. Damage to the buildings included shattered windows, partial roof damage and the overhead garage doors. According to the lot's owner, cleanup crews may be able to save as much as 80% of the damaged vehicles. In the meantime it's business as usual - new vehicles were enroute to the car lot within a week after the storms and operations continued out of the least damaged buildings.

Two of America's largest railroads were also affected by the Oklahoma tornadoes, according to published reports. Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway said they had considerable debris across tracks, including separate instances of collapsed grain silos. A BNSF spokesman said storms destroyed a key rail signal building and knocked down a microwave signal tower near Moore. Dozens of cross-country freight trains in the areas of Oklahoma and Kansas were rerouted following the storms. Once damage was repaired, the trains returned to their normal routes.

In Moore, an industrial park housing dozens of businesses, was damaged in the May 3 storm for the second time in eight months. A twister had destroyed parts of the park in October 1998, causing $225,000 in damage. Many of the firms had just completed repair work when the second round of tornadoes hit. The May storms caused $2 - $3.5 million in damages at the park. Most firms in the industrial parks have reported they will rebuild again in the area.

State Economy Reports Affected by Tornadoes

Oklahoma's economic report for May was released with a tornado-related disclaimer, according to an article in the Daily Oklahoman. The report contains May unemployment and job growth numbers.

"Due to the timing of last month's severe storms, data this month may not reflect the labor market situations in several hard-hit areas," the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission added to the bottom of its monthly report.

A mid-year economic update released by Oklahoma State University carried a similar disclaimer, said the published newspaper report.

"The devastation of central Oklahoma's May tornadoes has made it more difficult for economists to predict construction employment for the rest of 1999," said Dan Rickman, OSU economics professor in the newspaper article.

"On the one hand, the additional construction that occurs after natural disasters usually stimulates the economy," Rickman said. "But given the current state and national building boom, difficulty in getting building materials and crews may not impact the state's economy until next year."

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission's report for May didn't reflect a tornado-related increase in unemployment claims because data was collected around the 12th of May, just 9 days after the storms hit.

Kevin Lyles, a statistical analyst for the state agency, told the Daily Oklahoman he was unsure of how much a change in unemployment claims would be caused by the tornadoes.

"We know that for some areas, like Stroud, the unemployment numbers will be much higher," he said.

There's also the possibility that in areas like Oklahoma City, the unemployment numbers may go down because of people put to work in the clean-up effort, said the newspaper article.


Clean-Up Costs Continue To Climb

Throughout Oklahoma, cleanup crews have kept very busy throughout the months of May and June. According to a copyright story in The Daily Oklahoman, cleanup costs from the May 3 tornadoes are approaching $40 million. To determine overall costs, the newspaper studied contracts and invoices from across the state, interviewed contractors and obtained records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Cleanup is finished or almost complete in Oklahoma City, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City, Stroud, Del City, Sapulpa, Mulhall and Bridge Creek.

FEMA is covering debris removal costs. The agency also is reimbursing most of the $1.2 million spent by the Oklahoma National Guard to protect damaged neighborhoods from May 3 - 23.

Janette Ballman is a senior editor for the Disaster Recovery Journal.