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UF Research Team Surveys Tornado Damage

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Debris left behind three months after the Moore tornado.
Debris left behind three months after the Moore tornado.

University of Florida researchers are evaluating the damage done after a powerful tornado ravaged Moore, Okla.

UF engineering professor David Prevatt and his team of civil engineering students traveled to the city a few days after the storm that killed almost 30 people and injured nearly 400 others.

The May 20 storm received the highest possible rating on the standard tornado-strength-rating scale.

One team member, Jeandona Doreste, said the scene in Moore, about 11 miles south of Oklahoma City, was unlike any he’d witnessed before.

“On television, you might see an aerial view of the damage, and you might see a street view,” Doreste said. “I was able to actually walk into the homes and see walls torn out and actually understand how the damage occurred.”

The damage followed a similar pattern to past tornadoes in Moore, which has had three tornadoes in the last 13 years, Prevatt said.

He said he’s seen no real improvements to how homes are built in the city.

“The damage was sad but expected,” Prevatt said.

The UF team’s research revealed the $2 billion cost in damage was capable of being limited.

An engineering technique known as a vertical load path is one potential solution that could prevent a repeat of the Moore tornado’s destruction, Prevatt said.

The method works similar to hurricane clips by connecting each component of a building using mechanical fasteners.

Prevatt and his students collaborated with University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University students along with with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring attention to the lack of storm shelters in the area.

Prevatt said smart engineering and preparation are the best tools for protecting homes from tornadoes.

“No specific structure is inherently stronger than another,” Prevatt said.

When an F5 tornado struck Moore in 1999, then-President Bill Clinton issued a state of emergency.  The 2013 storm was estimated to cost more than the 1999 storm.

Prevatt said the problem is too much theory and not enough practice.

“Unfortunately, too much of this damage survey work has been done and nothing has come out of it or too little has come out of it,” Prevatt said.

Prevatt added that although his team informed government officials in Moore of the key to better structural integrity, it is up to them to learn from 2013 and 1999.

With their research, Prevatt’s team hopes that cities hit by tornadoes will rebuild stronger and smarter.

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