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picher, okla.

It is unsettling to drive through Picher, Okla. and see the fragments of humanity laid to waste; roots ripped from the soil. Cold wind blows through the rows of tract housed branded with the words “Keep out.” We are accustomed to the idea that our human impact on the natural world can be catastrophic. But we usually expect this to take centuries not mere decades. In Picher, mining of lead and zinc has contaminated the soil and water and left giant sinkholes in the ground making it an unsafe place to live.Then came the tornado. Roughly three years following the announcement that the state government would offer buyouts to Picher residents, a devastating tornado hit the town all but sealing its already grim fate.Now houses and barns and churches stand like tombstones in the bleak landscape.

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