PICHER, Okla. -- A track hoe sidled up to the modest yellow brick church, paused for a moment to position itself, then drove its teeth into the roof with brutal efficiency.
Shingles tumbled into the sanctuary. With the second blow, the wall buckled. The track hoe worked its way across the building, finally smashing the wall where a simple cross was emblazoned in red brick. Within 20 minutes, the First Baptist Church was rubble, ready to be loaded in waiting dump trucks and hauled away.
Behind the church, a water tower that now serves six households bears the legend "Picher Gorillas since 1918." It touts the mascot of a high school that won a state football championship in 1984, a year after the town was declared a toxic waste site. The school no longer exists.
Picher is a town that had held on through misfortune after misfortune. Now its death is near.