As I’ve mentioned previously, in 1995, my daddy, the late James R. May, worked in Oklahoma City for the ABLE Commission. He was just down the street at the time of the horrific bombing that took place 23 years ago at the Murrah building. He jotted down some of his thoughts, which were published in the Claremore Progress. While it’s a change from our typical upbeat posts, I think it certainly bears repeating, especially on the anniversary. The articles were published in two parts, so I will do the same.
Day Two of Glimpse into Hell: Rescue efforts turning into body recovery efforts
A clear day breaks over the blasted out Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The rescue efforts are turning into body reverie efforts. Exhausted, dust-covered personnel are ordered away. Fresher faces will take their places. Those who have worked through the night will eat, clean up and try for a little rest. Those who left late last night returned early this morning.
Sleep did not come easily as nerve ends still crackled with internal emotional electricity. The site of the devastating blast can physically hold only so many rescue workers. Portions of the building have to be shored up by welding to reduce the risk to the rescuers.
In the blocks outward from the bomb site, workers begin tending to other damaged buildings. A crane moves a damaged air conditioner from teetering on a roof. Another crane swings a portable building onto a debris-covered parking lot. In addition to the construction workers, more of that police offers call “suits” are in evidence. Owners, insurance investigators and engineers with their clipboards and neckties stand out from the emergency personnel. Heavy black sheets of plastic from the first day are replaced with sheets of plywood. Rubble is pushed into piles and thrown into trucks.
The National Guard troops have settled in for the duration. Olive drab military tents have sprung up on lawns. A military fuel truck sits on a parking lot surrounded by an orderly phalanx of firefighting equipment.
Sightseers have managed to work their way around the outermost security line. Officers order them away. Most are just curious. A few are those who show up at traffic accidents hoping to see something shocking.
Among the gawkers and curious are those who have a vested interest in the disaster. A young officer turned away several cars and quickly approached another to do the same. There was the murmur of conversion as the officer walked away. “Her son works in the building,” he explained. “It doesn’t look like he will be coming home again.”
More fire trucks are drawn up in what now has become orderly rank upon rank. Their gilt-lettered names read like an Oklahoma almanac. In among the crimson and chrome ranks is the occasional fire truck from Texas. People from everywhere care.
The nighttime roar of the generators has barely ebbed. The incessant shrill of a police whistle pierces the air as an intersection is rapidly cleared for more urgent traffic. Horns honk frequently but yesterday’s wail and moan of sirens is gone.
As the day progresses, concentric rings of security tighten. Rescue efforts continue unabated but the sense of a giant crime scene settles in. FBI agents have started a perimeter search for physical evidence. A contingent of ATF agents waits patiently to perform their part of the investigation.
Television and wire service photographs, while vivid, fail to convey the enormity of the awesome blast. From the epicenter at Fifth and Harvey, the brunt of the blast spread northward. A postal facility across the street lies in ruin. What had been an east exterior glass wall is now embedded in the interior west wall. A block away from the five-story high slope of courthouse debris is the Journal Record Building. Every window is gone. Even those windows facing away from the blast. A two-story high crack outlines the corner of the building. Two blocks away from the blast center, a red and white trailer truck sits amid the wreckage. The trailer is bowed.
The downtown streets are littered with pieces of building, glass, rubber, and plastic. On every sidewalk corner and tiny lawn there is mute evidence of the tragedy. Rubber gloves are discarded by the score, as are bandage and dressing wrappers.
Thus closes day two of hell in the heartland.
-by James R. May
Originally published in the Claremore Progress on April 21, 1995.