The devastation of last week’s Oklahoma tornado was witnessed firsthand Thursday by NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who passed out relief supplies in the ravaged city of Moore and visited an elementary school reduced to rubble by the storm.
Johnson visited the region along with his wife Chandra, a native of Muskogee, Okla., and NASCAR President Mike Helton. A five-time champion of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series and the current standings leader, Johnson helped to distribute nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items on a first-come, first-serve basis to residents affected by the May 20 storm.
One of the most damaging tornados in U.S. history, the twister was on the ground for 39 minutes and wreaked havoc along a path 17 miles long. More than a mile wide at its peak, the storm killed 24 people -- 10 of them children -- while injuring 377 others, destroying more than 1,200 homes and causing an estimated $2 billion in damages.
Ground zero for the storm was Moore, a community just south of Oklahoma City, which also endured a tornado in 1999 that killed 41 people. Reminders of the most recent storm were evident in the extensive damage, as well as the darkened skies Thursday afternoon -- the product of a severe system that led the National Weather Service to once again place the area under a tornado watch.
Thursday’s trip began with Johnson and Helton addressing employees at a Lowe’s store in Moore, where the effort was coordinated. The NASCAR champion and president later helped residents load their cars with supplies. They were assisted by several coaches and players from the Oklahoma University football team, including head coach Bob Stoops, quarterback Blake Bell, and offensive linemen Gabe Ikard and Bronson Irwin.
Johnson then toured the devastated area with the help of Tad Agoglia, founder of an First Response Team of America, a nonprofit organization that provides aid to areas impacted by disaster. Among the areas Johnson saw was the neighborhood behind the Lowe’s, which was hard-hit by the tornado, and Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven third-graders died in the storm.
Johnson’s trip was made in conjunction with Lowe’s, primary sponsor on his No. 48 car, and the Feed the Children charity. Johnson donated his race earnings of $147,791 from Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to tornado relief, an amount Lowe’s matched as part of a pledge to give $1 million toward rebuilding efforts.