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Cordell City Leaders Say High Costs, Possible Exodus Could Doom Town

(CORDELL) - Among the many fears brought on by last week's devastating tornado, Cordell city leaders are also concerned that the storm's aftermath will trigger an exodus of residents and drain its coffers.

Between 150 and 200 families - about 400 people in all - were displaced by the Oct. 9 twister, which damaged or destroyed 556 homes and businesses, Mayor Phil Kliewer said Monday. Scientists determined the tornado was an F3 on the Fujita scale of damage, packing winds between 158 and 206 mph.

``In a town of 1,500 single- and multiple-dwelling residences, that's an alarming amount,'' Kliewer said.

Kliewer is talking with four landowners about buying lots for mobile homes and recreational vehicles, but the deal hinges on how much the federal government will provide in disaster aid to the town of about 3,000.

Gov. Frank Keating formally requested public and private financial assistance last week for Cordell from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Denton, Texas.

President Bush has final approval of the funding request, a decision that could take a week to 10 days.

``Temporary housing is critical,'' said Charles Rainbolt, a local attorney and former state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ``We have a situation where if people find new housing and jobs, we might not get them back. In the short term, that's bad. In the long term, it's even worse.''

Damage estimates from the tornado run as high as $7 million - $3.1 million of which is tied directly to Cordell's electricity. Cordell buys its electricity wholesale from the Western Farmers Electric Co-op in Anadarko, and then acts as its own distributor with its residents.

That means Cordell - as electrical owner - also is liable for any damages to its system.

``Our insurance only covers about $150,000,'' said Bob Lambert, a city administrator who also lost his home to the tornado. ``Insurance companies generally don't cover things like pipes and wires because of the liability if someone should drive over one.''

Kliewer and Lambert believe it could cost the city as much as $150,000 a day in materials and labor to fully restore its electrical power.

``Add that up for eight or nine or 10 days, and then consider we had $1.24 million in reserve before the Oct. 9 tornado,'' Kliewer said. ``I'll let people do the math and figure that one out by themselves.''

Lambert has done the math and is worried.

``This could turn into financial ruin real fast for a small, western Oklahoma town,'' he said.
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