This is a guest post by Oldokie and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
The May 20 tornado is known as the Moore tornado but most people are not aware that it plowed through parts of at least three cities. It formed on the outskirts of the city of Newcastle, destroying several homes and businesses, then moved through the far southern end of Oklahoma City before reaching Moore where the vast majority of the destruction occurred.
Our home is located in the southern end of Oklahoma City and the western edge of Moore is just a couple of city blocks to our east. One of the two elementary schools(Briarwood) that were destroyed is two city blocks to the south. According to our local weathermen the tornado was large from the moment of first touching down(EF2 or EF3) and was at it’s height(EF5) when it was destroying Briarwood Elementary and it traveled over 17 miles and, if I remember correctly, it’s lifespan was around 30 minutes, probably more, I just don’t remember exactly.
Before I tell of my experience and that of my wife, I want to say that we were truly protected and blessed by our heavenly Father and suffered so very little in comparison to families around us. Our home was left standing and livable while starting 2 houses to the south of us are homes that are in varying degrees of ruin and will require demolition and then there are those that are just a pile of rubble. So please do not think I am trying to build up my small part in this terrible tragedy. The aim of this poorly written article is to give readers a small glimpse into a horrific and terrible act of nature and to show God’s loving hand in this event. Plus, while it brings back some scary reminders, it somehow helps in our recovery.
For at least a week before May 20 our local weathermen were forecasting that all the weather related ingredients were coming together on that day which could and most likely would produce large, violent and long lived tornadoes. Each weathercast of each day they were telling us to prepare and rehearse our tornado safety procedures. Ours consisted of checking out the underground shelter, which is in the garage floor, making sure we could get to it easily and also removing any creepy crawly things that have a tendency to thrive down there. Once that was done we went over the list of items we needed to take with us in the shelter like meds, documents, water, etc. We didn’t actually fill the bag until the morning of the 20th or maybe the 19th because there was a violent tornado that Sunday with fatalities but was on the northern fringes of OKC. So thanks to our weathermen we were as prepared and aware as one can be. We were ready and yet worried since they were really stressing the instability of the atmosphere and probability of violent weather.
Monday, May 20, 2013:
Monday morning dawned bright and with the sun shining through a spattering of white puffy clouds and with a good stiff wind blowing out of the south which is not unusual for springtime in Oklahoma. As the day moved along the clouds began to increase and you could actually see the “soupiness” of the atmosphere and a hazy look to the clouds. Still, my wife and I were having our normal post retirement morning of not doing a lot of heavy work. Around 12:30 – 1:00 pm after finishing our lunch we decided to turn on the TV to see what was happening in the weather department.
The bad weather was supposed to occur in the afternoon if it would occur at all. Since the May 3rd, 1999 tornado that destroyed another huge portion of Moore, all of the local TV stations have continuous weather coverage any time there is a weather event such as this day. So we knew there would be weather news to be found. Sure enough, the weather man was showing a couple of little thunderstorms forming out to the near west and southwest of OKC. At this point they were not severe and just starting to grow.
However, he was saying that the conditions were so ripe that any or all of these small storms could become large super cells very rapidly. The time was around 1:30 pm or just a few minutes after. By 2 pm these storms were full blown super cell thunderstorms and all storm chasers were sending their live feeds into the station and we were sitting in our living room watching it all unfold. We seem to have blotted out the western storm and don’t remember what happened to it since the storm to our southwest would be the one we had to worry about. By 2:30 pm the news was it was ready to drop a tornado any minute and if my memory serves me correctly they had already put a track on the storm that would bring it directly into our area.
At this point we were getting a bit more concerned and anxious. We share our shelter with our neighbors to our right and thankfully he showed up at the door about this time and he barely came inside our house when the weatherman shouted “tornado on the ground”. At that instant our hearts began to pound and a sense of panic sits in even though it may be a controlled panic. We stayed watching the TV long enough to verify the track was still in our direction and it was. At this point my wife said we should head to the shelter and thank God she did.
I was still in disbelief that this was happening and hadn’t made the decision to move yet. As we started toward the shelter I remember hearing the weatherman saying it was a large, violent tornado and you won’t survive if you aren’t underground. Due to our neighbor’s physical condition it takes a longer than normal time for him to get into or out of the shelter and by the time he was working his way into the shelter the winds were howling, hail and debris were beginning to hit the garage door and my wife and I were wondering if we were going to make it in time.
We did make it and the time was 2:50 pm. As I was latching the shelter lid we could hear above the howling of the wind and sounds of objects hitting the house, this gut wrenching rumble, roar and grinding sound coming from a distance but getting louder and closer. At this point there are a whole host of thoughts going on in the old head but in talking later with my wife, fear of us loosing our life was not one of them. We felt safe in the shelter but just knew the house was gone. So we are sitting there, holding hands, and hearing this multitude of noises and in the center of these noises is the worse noise of them all.
I’ve always heard people say it sounds like a freight train but that is not what my wife and I heard. This was the most roaring, rumbling and grinding sound straight from the pits of hell! As this sound reaches it’s loudest the ground and the shelter begin to vibrate. Then it seemed as though it stopped moving or slowed down quite a bit, then after what seemed to be hours the sounds began to diminish and we could tell it was moving away from us, slowly. We waited for a few minutes just to be sure it was all done and safe to come up.
Also there was the feeling of not wanting to see what we were so sure had happened to our home. So, we finally decided to exit the shelter and this was 3:30 pm, give or take a minute or two. When I slid open the shelter door my first thought was the door is sliding very easily to have had the whole house come crashing down on top of it. As soon as that thought flashed through my mind I saw that the garage door was still in place and then I saw we had a roof over our head and the walls were still standing. We thought, how could this be when we know we heard it all being ripped apart. Of course the power was out so the flash lights came in handy. We make our way into the house and then we begin to see the damage. On the east side of our living room there are two full sized windows with the fireplace between them.
The window on the right side was broken with a large piece of metal siding laying against it and across our back door. Water was dripping from the ceiling but the ceiling was intact. I could just faintly see all kinds of debris in the backyard because of all the mud and stuff plastered on the remaining windows. We go into the kitchen and see that all seems to be intact except for a broken window, just the outside pane of a double paned window, and a lot of small debris spread across the table and floor which could only have been blown under and around the back door.
I open the back door and have to move a large sheet of twisted and torn metal siding that was smashed against the door. Then I begin to look at the other homes to the back of ours. They are still standing but obviously damaged. At this point I haven’t looked to the south yet, just the homes immediately around us. I see roofs with most of the shingles gone, large gaping holes where something was propelled through the roof. I see windows smashed, fences down with parts of them standing but bent and holes that look like they were hit with cannon fire.
I see some trees standing but with twisted and broken limbs others merely uprooted and laying on their sides. Then I notice my own patio shade tree that used to be so beautiful and provided shade for my whole patio laying on it’s side uprooted. All this was seen as I stepped through the back door and I hadn’t walked out enough to see my own roof but I had a good idea what I was going to see. Then I noticed huge gouges in the ground where some objects must have skipped across the ground and ended up who knows where. One of the marks was about 12 inches by 6 feet and an inch or two deep. It looked like someone had taken a shovel and cleared the grass in that area. I noticed my storage shed was still standing, one of a very few left.
Then I decided to step out far enough to see our roof and yes it was the same as all the others except not as badly damaged as most of the others. This was the first awareness of how blessed we were and how God’s protecting hand was on us. Yes there were holes in the roof and missing vents but it was still obvious that it was not as bad as most. I go back inside before going out front and we both just can’t believe any of this just happened. Then we both go out front and we get the second awareness of just how protected and blessed we were.
It was truly a scene of some far off battlefield. Debris filled the street and yards, mangled trees, homes with worse roof damage than I saw to the back of me. The second house down and to the south across the street most of the roof including rafters gone. Any vehicles parked outside were just a pile of beat up mettle with no glass left. Don’t know of any in our immediate area that were blown away but they were all just beat to a pile of junk metal by all the flying debris. Then finally I look down the street to the south and toward Briarwood elementary school and I get the third awareness of our protection. Starting with the second home to my south each home is in worse shape than it’s northern neighbor until you see nothing but piles of rubble where a home used to sit.
It was such a terrible thing to see knowing that we were spared yet so many lost everything, some even their lives. Before the storm we could see some of the school’s buildings on the back side of the property, now we saw crumpled and twisted steel beams and rubble. We knew there had to be many deaths of young children and it hurt us immensely. We didn’t know until the next day that all children and teachers made it out safely. That was our forth awareness of God’s protection not only for us but many other people as well.
About this time, probably no more than 10 minutes after coming out of the shelter, we see other people emerging from their shattered and broken homes. A lady across the street came out of her home which had been badly damaged with most of the roof caved into the house. She was carrying a large portrait of her deceased husband, not wanting anything to happen to it. She said her roof collapsed on top of her. My wife took her into our home and cleaned and bandaged a few small cuts and tried to comfort her but she was anxious to go find her son who lived a couple of miles to the south. We tried talking her out of it but she would have none of it and wanted us to hold onto her husbands portrait and off she went. We hated that she was trying this since she had to cross the center of all the destruction to get to her son but we would have had to tackle her to get her to stay.
The severity of the storm was visually displayed to us by just looking down the street to the south. Pictures and video on TV do not give it justice. It is just heart rending to see total destruction up close and in person. Knowing that each home destroyed is a lifetime of memories gone in an instant, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears of acquiring and maintaining a home is very hard to take. Specially when my wife and I were spared most of that kind of destruction. And yet with the relatively light amount of damage to our home compared to the total destruction of others our lives have been turned upside down also.
Our home isn’t the safe home it used to be, we jump at the slightest and smallest clap of thunder, we are weary and not sleeping well. We don’t eat like we should and we are wanting this to just go away. And that sound will stay with both of us till we hear no more. We know it is going to take time to make all the repairs and that isn’t much consolation either. But, we have our faith and knowledge that God brought us safely through the storm and He will bring us safely through the aftermath also. Plus there is the insurance and we feel, hope and pray they will treat us fairly.
Around 6 pm a police officer came around and said we had to leave the neighborhood. At first that didn’t sit too well with me but with all of the destruction and the smell of natural gas heavy in the air we packed a few belongings and locked up the house and went to the city of Norman to find a hotel room since we are here with no family in the state. The officer said we would be able to get back in our home the next morning.
Little did we know that getting back in would be a challenge. When we left Monday evening it wasn’t that hard getting out of the neighborhood. By going toward the north exit the debris and destruction was less the farther north we drove. The real problem was getting around the neighborhood and the damage since the track of the tornado lay between us and the city of Norman where we hoped to get a room. I know, we should have kept going north into downtown OKC but we or more truthfully I wasn’t thinking very soundly at the time.
It took us over an hour to drive what usually is a 15-20 minute drive to Norman and we just about got the last available room left in Norman. We eventually bedded down and tried to get some sleep but sleep was hard to come by and we were up and ready to go home around 7 am. So we jumped in the car and headed home only to sit in lines of traffic and inch up to the roadblocks to be told no one is allowed in. With nerves already frayed our anger, truthfully my anger rose, and yet there wasn’t much we could do about it.
So we decided to go see our insurance agent and get the claim started. After about 2 hours or so we tried a different entrance and was allowed back in. This went on for three days, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. After taking four hours Wednesday to get through all the checkpoints and make the drive to Norman we vowed we would checkout of the hotel room in the morning, return to our home and stay. That is exactly what we did and have been home since, leaving only twice in two weeks.
We have had the trees cut down and removed to the curb, all the other debris has been removed to the curb and have contracted with several companies for repairs. The insurance adjuster was here Saturday, the 1st of June, and we are eagerly awaiting the final settlement so the repairs can be started in earnest. One problem in getting the repairs going has been the post storm weather. We have hardly had two days in a row of decent weather.
Support has been a very real blessing and very much appreciated. At least on our street the Salvation Army was the most visible. Starting on Tuesday there was a Salvation Army food truck that came by 3 times a day with hot food for any and everyone. Plus many other organizations and just individuals offering to do anything they could to help. There were so many that we said thank you for your offer but there are others who need the assistance more than us. Except for a Baptist relief group that were cutting down the damaged trees and since I had no way of doing it we graciously excepted the offer. And just today(June 4th) we noticed a large group of people walking down the street with large water coolers and they were sitting them on the doorsteps of each home.
They were here and gone before I could get out to greet them and see what this was all about. The cooler was just sitting there and I picked it up and could tell it was full of something that wasn’t water. After opening the lid we found it was stuffed full of non-perishable food and bottled water. That’s the way it has been since the day after the storm. It is very gratifying and humbling to see and be a recipient of so much care and concern. Until the storm hit I had been thinking there isn’t much good out there any more but there is. It just takes a disaster to bring it out.
Fifth awareness of God’s protection and blessing:
Our patio in the back, before the storm, was probably the same as most backyard patios. We had several rocking chairs, we’re old remember, a large gas grill, my two burner camp grill, a large propane smoker and a nice table plus other things scattered around. A nice maple tree provided shade for the entire patio. We had a small folding wooden TV tray table sitting next to the outside of the fireplace. On the table stood a small metal angel with it’s wings outstretched. After the storm the chairs were in the yard amongst other debris, the smoker was buried under the uprooted maple tree.
The gas grill and the camp grill were slightly moved and covers torn. There were large sheets of metal plus other debris covering most of the patio. Amidst all the carnage and debris, with most everything that was originally on the patio gone and replaced by ragged twisted pieces of metal sat that little wooden table with the angel and it hadn’t moved at all. The window not 6 inches away from it was smashed by debris but that table and angel were still standing where it had been for several years.
Use of stored supplies:
Another blessing for us was the supplies gathered over the last few years and the fact that they came through mostly intact. We had only a couple of #10 can items that had gotten a small amount of wetness from wet carpet. The first item we used or I should say donated was a case of bottled water which we gave for the first responders Monday evening. This was before all the supplies started pouring in. Then when we realized we had no water pressure to the house, the pumping station’s power was out, we used our water I had stored in 2 liter Pepsi bottles to flush the toilets. Thankfully the water pressure was restored by the 3rd day. Our generator was used for 4 days until the power was restored on the 5th day. The power being restored that soon was a miracle.
That was not expected but a wonderful surprise. The gas for the generator was from what I had stored so we did not need to scramble for gasoline. The first 2 days, we plus all the neighbors, were still dazed and not all together emotionally so we accepted the hot meals(Salvation Army) with grateful hearts. By the 3rd day I cleaned up the camp stove and we began preparing most of our meals on it only occasionally accepting the meals. At this time we had all our utilities except natural gas so we used the camp stove to heat water for our baths. One minor hole in our preps was noted then… need larger stock pots for heating water. Will correct that after we recover! But over all our supplies met our needs and we were pretty much self-sufficient and were happy to have had the foresight to have stored the supplies and that providence prevented the destruction of said supplies.
The thoughts and descriptions written above are from me and my wife’s small part in this great tragedy that played itself out on Monday, the 20th of May, 2013 in the heart of Oklahoma. There are so many that suffered and are still suffering so much more than we. The homes destroyed, the lives turned upside down, the lives lost is just unimaginable unless one can step out his or her front door and see it for themselves. One night as we sat in our hotel room watching a newscaster talking about why so many tornadoes seem to head straight for the city of Moore he asked the question was Moore being punished.
The implication, to me, was that God was doing the punishing. My wife and I and many others affected by this storm have seen firsthand the role God played. Tragedies like this are a result of the fallen world we have to live in and will continue to occur to the good and bad, Christian and non-Christian. God’s role in this was seen by us and many more in the protection given to us and the fact that so many survived. God could have chosen to call us home on that Monday afternoon but He did not. Instead He chose to protect many, many people and that was His role, not punishment.
P.S. We are moving out of Tornado Alley as soon as possible!
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First Place winner will receive - A $150 gift certificate for $150 off Wolf ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner. A Humless 2.5 Watt Portable Solar Panel courtesy of LPC Survival, Sopakco Sure-Pak MRE – 12 Meals courtesy of Campingsurvival.com.
- Second Place winner will receive – One Emergency Seed Bank (stored in military ammo cans) with over 33 varieties of non-hybrid garden seed courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net.
- Third Place winner will receive - a one year subscription to Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and a copy of my book 31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on September 9 2013