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Xenia group raising money for Moore families

A group of local residents— some of whom survived the F5 tornado that ripped through Xenia in 1974 — are raising money to adopt 12 Moore, Okla., families who are recovering from the powerful twister that flattened portions of their city.

“Even after 39 years, the people in Xenia know the heartbreak and financial difficulties of losing all they have,” said Rev. Dr. John Freeman of United AME Church.

The group, Xenia 4 Moore OK, is holding a fund-raiser from 10 am to 9 pm Saturday on the square at The Greene.

Money raised will be used to help the families during the next year, according to Debby Stephens, one of the group’s organizers. The money raised will be funneled through the Greene County Community Foundation.

Stephens recalled driving through the devastation of 1974. A prospective Cedarville University student at the time, what she saw along U.S. 42 a week after the tornado has stayed with her.

“It was seeing everything someone had owned scattered in the trees, in the fields, everywhere. People lost everything they had,” she said.

Freeman said the local project for Okla. started at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast shortly after Moore was hit by the EF5 tornado. Since then, the group has raised money at Xenia’s First Friday events.

“This isn’t over for them,” Stephens said of the families. The group has raised a little less than $1,000 and disbursed about half that amount. Saturday’s event is to kick-start the fundraising for resources to help the 12 families for 12 months. Some of the families were injured. Most are out of their homes, waiting for the reconstruction to begin, Stephens said.

Alberto Laija was stuck in traffic on Interstate 35, attempting to get to his family when the tornado hit Moore.

“It was the most helpless I have ever felt,” he said Wednesday by phone from Moore. “In my mind, I could see my wife and children in the middle of the tornado, in danger, while I was safe stuck in traffic. I just wanted to switch places.”

His wife rode out the storm in a neighbor’s basement. His 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were in lock down in the local elementary school. They escaped harm. Their house did not.

“There are 2X4s through the roof. The windows are all blown out. It’s a mess, but structurally sound, according to the insurance company,” Laija said. “But all my neighbors, their houses are gone or being demolished.”

The family has been living in an apartment since the twister. Tuesday, Laija was told roofers would start work Friday. “It was like Christmas. We’ll be back in our home in another month-and-a-half.”

Laija was put in contact with the Xenia group through his church. “They have just been real supportive and helpful,” he said. “They have been in constant contact with us.”

The moral support has helped him deal with all his family faces, Laija said. “That’s one thing I can’t wrap my head around, the way people who don’t know us, who aren’t from here, have wrapped their arms around us.”

Laija said the Xenia group will contact him after Saturday’s fund-raiser to begin sorting out the family’s many needs.

“I’ve seen the pictures of the Xenia tornado,” Laija said. “It’s incredible how something like this connects people.”

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