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Town Does Not Rebuild After Killer Tornado

One of the tornado damaged homes that will not be repaired in Picher, Oklahoma.

By John Durkee


Picher, Oklahoma – It is the story of Picher, Oklahoma. Once, it was a community of 20,000 with its own newspaper and radio station. Then the mines closed and left over tailings turned the water red. In the 1980's Picher became a Federal Superfund site. After remediation failed, the federal government started a buy-out of the residents. One year-ago, yesterday, in the middle of the buy-out, an E-F four tornado sliced through the town leaving six people dead.

Now a year-later, there is not much left of Picher. There was no reason to rebuild. The lawn is being mowed at the Picher Post-office. That is where we met 69-year-old Shirley Jones. She and her husband were staking tomato plants when the twister appeared on the horizon. The twister hit her home head-on.

Her daughter-in-law was one of the seriously injured from the tornado. The Jones' are among those still waiting to be bought out . The government made an offer, but she says it was an offer she could refuse.

Across the street is the Old Miner's Pharmacy one of the few businesses still operating in Picher. Inside is Pharmacist Gary Linderman . The twister missed his drug store but he saw it coming from his home. He tried to get to the store to open it for first aid supplies but the damage was so intense that he couldn't get there.

Besides the drug store, Picher still has a City Hall and a fire department and a state bank, but that is about it. Other buildings are empty. Tornado damaged property is still littered with debris. There is no reason to clean it up. A once vibrant town is now nearly a ghost town just one mile north of famous Route 66 in Ottawa County.