Oklahoma City Tornado, 1999

In May 1999, a Level 5 tornado tore through Oklahoma City, leveling entire neighborhoods and commercial buildings. At one week into the incident, eight canine teams from across the country, including myself and Sunny, were brought in by FEMA to assist in searching for those still reported missing. The main focus of the search was in neighborhoods, which consisted of churches, small shopping malls, schools and houses made from wood construction. Hazards encountered were many, including splintered wood, nails, sheet metal, deep basements, and lawn/garden products mixed with pesticides and household chemicals. Another problem was the difficulty of navigating to specific search areas, since road signs and landmarks had been wiped out by the tornado.

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By the second day of the search, officials had only one person still unaccounted for. From that time on, the dogs mainly searched the tornado’s path from the person’s point last seen, with the exception of unsafe areas around freeways. On the last day of the search, the victim was found under some dirt next to the freeway in one of the areas deemed unsafe to search with canines.

Although no missing persons were discovered in the areas that the canines searched, their mission was still considered successful. Due to the help of the canine teams, large areas of the city were quickly searched and declared clear, thereby allowing the search efforts to move onto to new areas quickly.