Picher Marks One-Year Anniversary Of Tornado

Thursday, May 7th 2009, 6:00 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

PICHER, OK -- Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornado in Picher.

The EF-4 twister killed six people and devastated what little was left of the Ottawa County community.

Picher was already in the midst of a federal buyout when the tornado struck, and the disaster has sped up that process.

There simply won't be many people around to mark this somber anniversary.

Almost one year after it was decimated by the tornado, the streets of Picher are eerily quiet. The debris has been cleared, but nothing is being rebuilt.

Instead, the damaged houses have been boarded up.

"That was the first one I've seen in real life," tornado survivor Kevin Owens said. "Didn't know what to think."

Owens says the tornado was barreling toward his house, but narrowly missed it. When he emerged from his storm shelter, he made sure to keep a memento.

"Actually forgot about it," he said. "Like, wow, I still have it in there. Just one of those things."

The piece of hail has remained in Owens' freezer, a physical reminder of May 10.

At Picher Schools, Superintendent Don Barr sees daily reminders of the tornado.

"We had employees, students with family members who were injured and lost homes," Barr said. "We had staff members that lost homes."

The halls of the high school are nearly empty these days. Because of the ongoing federal buyout, Picher's student population was already dwindling.

But the tornado didn't help. There are only 46 students in kindergarten through 12th grade this year, and the school will shut its doors for good next Friday.

"The dynamics of this community with the federal buyout and the tornado, it's not nearly the same as it once was," Barr said.

That's a fact Owens knows all too well. As one of the community's few remaining residents, he says he's reluctant to leave.

But he has accepted that, a year after the tornado, Picher is well on its way to becoming a ghost town.

"I liked growing up here, going to school here and stuff," Owens said. "It was all pretty fun. I wouldn't pick anywhere else to live."

Picher High School still plans to conduct its graduation ceremonies. Ten seniors will receive diplomas next Friday.