my cross country journey took me from the west end of the oklahoma panhandle all the way across to the northeast corner of the state. just as i was about to cross the oklahoma-kansas border i passed through a little town called picher.
something felt off as i entered the town. and as i got further in i noticed a whole grouping of damaged homes to my right, with a no-trespassing sign loftily staked at the main road entrance. i, of course, indulged my curiosity and ventured into the neighborhood. i anticipated finding a couple arsoned homes or something of the like. but what i discovered was so much more. a whole neighborhood of of picher had been completely desecrated. homes with roofs torn off and on the ground beside them, furniture strewn about the streets, entire trees ripped from the earth now lay with their roots facing the sky. it soon sank in that this town suffered a severe natural disaster. later research confirmed this town was hit by a tornado in may 2008.
the following polaroids were all i could capture of the left-behind town. the whole experience was simultaneously unsettling, beautiful and sad.
a tree lies, its roots exposed.
'dear jon's archery supply'
one of the less-damaged homes sits amongst storm trash and debris.
this home reads 'SEATO'. im not exactly sure what it means.
the sentiment to the left reads 'what's left of it'.
an abandoned home sits still while the wind moves the curtains in and out of the shattered windows.
it was so bright out that i wasn't able to totally capture this street sign.
it reads '7th street' above a pile of debris that includes a home, a tree and some left behind toys.
driving through this town was incredibly intense. what was so crazy about it was that driving in, through and out took less than an hour. this town was so small yet i can't imagine the magnitude of effect this tornado had on the people who lived there. as i drove out of the town i noticed all the store fronts and businesses were closed and abandoned. how can you run businesses in a town if no one lives there anymore?
and picher is just one example of small town america being fought and defeated by natural disaster. i cant help wonder where all these people went and what is going to happen to this little town.
** further research indicates that the town of picher was already undergoing abandonment after many residents left due to poor air and water conditions. this was the result of years of underground lead and zinc mining. **