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Wearing powder blue pants and a plaid fedora, 84-year-old Orval "Hoppy" Ray arrived fashionably late to a celebration in Picher, Oklahoma, a vacated mining town at the center of one of the nation's largest and most polluted toxic-waste sites.
Former residents, bought out by the government because their town was deemed so dangerous, gathered in Picher's elementary school to say farewell to a place where kids suffered lead poisoning, where homes built atop underground mines plunged into the Earth and where the local creek coughs up orange water, laced with heavy metals.
A toothpick dangling out of the corner of his chapped mouth, Ray greeted several old friends as if he were in any other small town in America.
"Hello there, Hoppy! How the hell are ya?" one called out.
Gray mountains of toxic gravel loomed behind the school, just out of sight, as Hoppy hobbled past a bundle of balloons and through the front doors, cane in hand. He tipped his hat as he entered.
"Looks like a good crowd," he said. "Everybody seems to be havin' a good time. That's the main thing."
In a town this tragic and for a person as stubborn as Hoppy, that's a big statement.
As his abandoned town fades to dust, Hoppy has gone into the business of memories. He wants to remind townspeople, and the world, that a person's home should always be loved -- no matter how toxic. The death toll from a chain-reaction accident on an Oklahoma turnpike this weekend has risen to 10.Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo., said Sunday that 35-year-old Shelby Hayes of Frisco, Texas, had died. She had been in critical condition with head, internal and external injuries after Friday's crash.Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., said Sunday that the condition of 12-year-old Andrea Reyes, of Phoenix, Ariz., was upgraded from critical to serious
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