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Sulphur begins to rebuild, one month after severe tornado leveled town

I sign outside a destroyed home in Sulphur, OK reads "Sulphur strong: Stronger than the storm"
Cait Kelley

The destruction is still obvious, one month after an EF3 tornado tore through downtown Sulphur, killing one person and damaging more than 200 buildings.

Sulphur City Manager Andy Freeman estimates that around 70 of the damaged buildings were outright flattened. He also said about 72 businesses were affected.

Residents have begun to rebuild, including Tom Davila. Davila co-owns Auto Trim Design & Signs in downtown Sulphur, which opened its doors more than 30 years ago. His business is still standing, but the building was seriously damaged.

Davila estimates it will cost around $60,000 to repair. Davila and his family are currently rebuilding with their own funds but are seeking assistance from the Small Business Administration as well.

“These things are just things. We want to get them back as best we can,” he said. “With the help of friends, the SBA and other loan agencies, I think we can do that.”

On June 4, Davila was one of several business owners and survivors of the tornado to meet with U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, who serves in President Joe Biden’s cabinet. Guzman toured Sulphur with Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives and local leaders and met with Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.

Both FEMA and the SBA have already approved millions of dollars in assistance and loans for Sulphur residents. FEMA assists individuals, while the SBA offers low-interest loans to both business owners and homeowners.

Sulphur was hardly the only city ravaged by the April 27 storm system. An EF4 carved a 27-mile path near Marietta, killing one person, destroying a hospital and forcing the closure of a Dollar Tree distribution center. Another EF3 ripped through Holdenville, killing two people.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management estimates that the storm and several others over a two-week period from April 25 through May 9 damaged more than 800 homes and businesses in 22 counties.

A business is repaired after a tornado in Sulphur, OK
Cait Kelley
Repairs are underway at Auto Trim Design & Signs in downtown Sulphur.

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Cait Kelley is a summer intern at KOSU through the Scripps Howard Fund summer internship program.
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