Disaster response team deployed to Oklahoma returns to Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The destruction in Oklahoma is much worse in person than what we see on television, that's according to one Baton Rouge man who's just returned from Moore. Chuck Smith is the commander of the region six D-MORT (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team). The region includes Louisiana and Oklahoma.

He says Monday's tornado took almost the same path as the F-5 twister that hit the same area in 1999. Smith was in Kansas evaluating a tornado drill there when he got word to head to Oklahoma.

"This was a fully occupied neighborhood 18 hours earlier," Smith said, scrolling through pictures on his phone. Those pictures are just a little piece of the devastation he saw.

The smell of dirt in the air, homes wiped down to the slabs and orange X's marked on homes to show where responders looked for signs of life.

Unfortunately, this is not Smith's first time seeing destruction up close.

"Oklahoma City bombing, went back in '99 for F-5 tornado and back this year."

D-MORT is a federal response team that specializes in helping recover and identify the dead, as well as counsel families. They respond to disasters where death tolls are expected to be high. Smith says thankfully those counts weren't high in this case. That's because most people found shelter, thanks to a 16 minute warning ahead of the storm.

"The death toll would be substantially higher in Baton Rouge because we aren't used to it. We don't see those things," Smith said.

He describes what he found in Oklahoma as visually overwhelming.

"You look around and as far as you can see every house is destroyed. Cars are balled up into the size of bails of hay."

Smith took video from one of the elementary schools where his team was sent to help. He says at the time they were there, no one knew if there were children hidden beneath the debris.

He says this tornado destroyed many of the homes that had to be rebuilt after an F-5 hit in 1999.

After seeing some of the worst up close, Smith believes there's a lesson to be learned.

"You can never be prepared enough. When somebody warns you, take it seriously immediately."