Handed a cell phone, Gov. Kevin Stitt turned his back to the south wind. Television station microphones pressed toward him and a mountain of crumpled tornado misery served as the backdrop.
“This is Kevin,” he said. “Yes, Mr. President. Thank you.
“I appreciate you taking the time to call.”
The call from President Trump came at 10:18 Monday morning, about the time Stitt was concluding his tour of the tornado devastation caused by Saturday night’s storm. A storm that claimed the lives of two El Reno residents at the Skyview Mobile Home Park and injured 29 others, some said to be critical.
Stitt, walking near the rubble with daughter, Piper and Mayor Matt White, used words similar to those expressed by others in describing the destruction.
“It's devastating,” he told Trump.
“There were two fatalities. It was classified as an F-3.”
Later, Stitt said the president offered prayers and support for Oklahoma. He said he has been in conversation with the director of FEMA and the Secretary of the Army.
The governor said the recent flooding is on par with record levels set in 1986. He said eastern Oklahoma can't handle any more rain. He said farmers have been especially impacted by the rains.
Stitt said the El Reno devastation is only understood when it is viewed in person.
“Television doesn’t do it justice,” Stitt said.
“There’s nothing like having boots on the ground and seeing the devastation in person.”
Stitt praised the first responders and volunteers who have been helping the victims of the storms.
Later he would tour the temporary shelter established at Jenks Simmons Field House. Over a dozen victims were present on Monday morning, and Stitt spoke to many of them, offering words of support.
As the victims were treated to a breakfast of pancakes and sausage, Stitt stood alongside White and other officials, answering the questions of about a dozen reporters. He and the others assured the community they are doing all that they can to provide aid for the victims, a lengthy process that could end up meriting federal assistance.
“This will go down in history at the local, state and federal levels,” said White.
“All eyes are on El Reno, all prayers are on El Reno and all hands are on deck.”
White thanked Canadian County officials and Oklahoma organizations for their efforts, and he also had high praise for the work done by everyday citizens.
“We couldn't have done it without them,” he said.
Stitt said he was impressed by the strength of the community, especially those who are persevering despite losing so much.
“You just can’t imagine anybody being able to survive,” he said.
“There are people fighting for their lives right now at OU Medical Center.”
Stitt and White were joined by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, Rep. Rhonda Baker, ODOT Director Tim Gatz, Police Chief Ken Brown and Fire Chief Kent Lagaly, as well as Jeff Kouba of Public Works, and other officials including County Commissioners David Anderson, Marc Hader and Jack Stewart.
Federal help could be on the way.
“We’re assessing the damage to see what assistance can be offered from the federal level,” said Keli Cain with Oklahoma Emergency Management Authority.
“Aside from the damage here in El Reno, there’s damage in other parts of the state that could mean a declaration of federal assistance.”