MOORE, Okla.—Southwest 4th Street used to be known as one of the busiest cruising strips in this growing suburb of Oklahoma City, a street where teenagers for decades killed time just driving around in loops with their friends.
It was a tradition that began long before the population boom that fueled the rapid construction of housing developments west of Santa Fe Avenue, the official dividing line between Moore and Oklahoma City. Back then, the tall blinking antenna towers for what used to be KOMA Radio was the most iconic feature of the city skyline, rising high above 4th Street over what used to be mostly empty farm land to the west.
In recent years, the young have driven their cars elsewhere, attracted to the newer movie theaters and restaurants popping up along Moore’s southern border. But in the aftermath of Monday’s tornado here, which killed at least 24 people, 4th Street has been busy again, packed with cars and people on foot trying to get a glimpse of the damage caused by what weather officials say was the most devastating storm to hit this city in years.
It was a testament to what usually happens to a city in the aftermath of a major natural disaster: It turns into a circus.
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials from all over the state fanned out along 4th Street, guarding entrances to neighborhoods flattened by the tornado and where workers continued to pick through debris looking for more victims. FBI agents were even spotted blocking a path into the city’s oldest cemetery in an attempt to keep people away. But it wasn’t really working.
Dozens of people—teenagers, moms and dads with their kids and even the elderly—strolled in packs down 4th street trying to get close to the damage, walking so casually it seemed as though they were just on an afternoon trip to the mall. They carried their iPhones, meticulously chronicling slivers of lumber and other debris, and talked about footage they’d seen on television of the storm and other tornadoes they’d lived through.