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Storm Victims Re-Establish Identity

May 12, 1999

MOORE, Okla. (AP) _ Authorities issuing new driver’s licenses to replace those lost in last week’s tornadoes are taking a thumbprint from victims to make sure the new IDs are given to their rightful owners.

Officials are also quizzing people about their personal history and asking for other information to ensure impostors don’t wind up with replacement birth certificates, homeowner’s certificates or other crucial documents.

``There’s information in that tornado that’s been blown all over creation,″ state Department of Public Safety examiner Sabra Denton said Tuesday, staffing a driver’s license office at the First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla. ``We’re a compassionate outreach here, but we’re still protecting the public.″

For many victims, the twisters that killed 41 people in Oklahoma carried away nearly all of their vital papers.

In Midwest City, residents who ask for duplicate documents but have no ID are given a pop quiz to prove they were homeowners. Police records specialist Hazel Hamer takes out a map and asks them to point to where their houses once stood.

``We realize some people have lost everything,″ Hamer said. ``We just go by the map and we check the utility records to make sure the name and address on the bills match the addresses people are giving us.″

Larry Williamson of the state Department of Public Safety has processed applications for more than 100 driver’s licenses over several days at the Moore church.

People have been offering everything from fishing licenses to American Association of Retired Persons membership cards to prove their identity.

``I took a guy awhile ago who had his entire criminal booking record with his name and address on it,″ Williamson said. ``He got his license.″

To guard against fraud, Williamson calls up driving histories and quizzes applicants about speeding tickets, maiden names or how long they have been driving.

Everyone is asked to give a thumbprint, which scares away criminals and gives state investigators some key evidence if the license is used to commit fraud, Williamson said.

``We have had some people come into the exam stations who change their stories or don’t know all the answers,″ he said. ``They leave pretty quickly.″

Melissa Hess, 24, hid in a cellar while the twisters destroyed her two-story Moore home. When she emerged, everything was gone, including the file box where she kept all her bank records and her two son’s birth certificates.

``I don’t have my identification, I don’t have my checkbook, I don’t have my credit card,″ Mrs. Hess said. ``The only thing left at my house is the grill.″

Kent and Kellie Taylor were among the lucky ones. Taylor had his driver’s license in his pocket when he took cover in a closet with his children, ages 18 months and 9 years, as the tornado ripped away the roof of their three-bedroom home.

He should be able to quickly replace his marriage license and his children’s birth certificates.

``I know I’m still married to him and I’m not going to let him forget that,″ Mrs. Taylor joked Tuesday, as the couple drove through the rubble that once was their neighborhood.

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