Residents’ storm stories: ‘We can’t go back, the destruction is so bad’

Tim Skillern
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Yahoo News invited Oklahoma City area residents to share their firsthand experiences and observations from Monday’s tornadoes and rescue efforts, and the cleanup that began Tuesday. Below are excerpts from what they’ve written.


Walking away from a destroyed home: Two of our close friends, Susan and Bob Njoo, were affected by the tornado. They hid in their closet as the tornado hit. The closet is no longer standing. They were buried under the rubble. Bobby was able to punch through the sheetrock to get more air. It took the rescuers about 45 minutes to get them out. It's a miracle that they survived. They were able to walk away with only minor injuries. But their house is destroyed.

-- Linda Nowlan, Bethany


‘We can't go back, the destruction is so bad’: Shortly after 2 p.m., I headed down the stairwell to my car and over to the high school to check out my children [from Moore’s schools]. Of course, there was a line of parents doing the same thing, so it wasn't a quick process. At 2:45 p.m. the school district sent out this message:

"2:45 p.m. We are currently holding all students until the current storm danger is over. Students are being released to parents only at this time. We will notify you by this same method when student release begins."

I watched the tornado gain size as it moved into southern Oklahoma City and then into Moore, down a very popular path that I drive weekly. I watched in disbelief as the tornado swept through the movie theater I love so much.

The 7-Eleven that I visit at least twice a week is gone. The credit union that I recently visited is nothing but a slab. Many other businesses and neighborhoods I am so familiar with are destroyed. When I heard that two elementary schools were hit, I immediately knew which ones they had to be talking about. My heart sank when I saw the footage.

Later Monday evening, I was informed that the administrative building where I work [in Moore] is severely damaged. We can't go back, the destruction is so bad. The cars on the lot were tossed and flipped, and our work's technology center, located on the same lot, is gone. Several nearby homes are nothing but rubble.

The next few weeks and months will seem like an eternity.

-- Tonette Smith Woody, Oklahoma City


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Taking shelter as tornadoes twist through: Monday's two-mile-wide tornado tore down the street I lived on 12 months ago in Moore. My heart was heavy, as many of my friends still lived there. My heart sank even more when I found out that two elementary schools were hit; one of them is Plaza Towers, the school my son used to attend. Unfortunately, some of those children did not make it. Those third-graders would have been my son's classmates. This evening, it has really started to sink in just how bad this weather is.

Still, the destruction from [Monday] has still not registered fully with my wife and me. I am fortunate and am so thankful the storms that were rotating over our heads missed us, but I am so sad that so many of my fellow Oklahomans were caught in it.

-- Brett Day, Bridge Creek


A terrifying day in Wapanucka: In one minute, the skies were bright; the next minute saw storm clouds everywhere. We had winds strong enough to pick up large items and throw them in all kinds of directions. When the tornado sirens started sounding, it was already getting so bad outside that it was best to take cover where we already were.

I put my kids in the tub and sang them to sleep with a pillow and blanket before going to watch the storm from the front door with my father. I watched as lightning struck our walnut tree and split it in half. I watched as our 50-pound trash can was slung across our yard. I watched as a cable line snapped down the road, causing ours to sag to the ground.

-- Mary Martin, Wapanucka


An unprecedented monster: I received a call from my sister Monday afternoon; she was concerned about one of my sons [who] lives in the Oklahoma City area. He is a civilian construction superintendent, working on government projects within just a few miles of where this terrible monster hit. I called him, and moments before it hit, he had made the call to send all his subcontractors home.

Believe it or not, some of his superiors felt he should keep his men on the job. He did not. His will be vindicated [this] morning. When we talked, he was on I-40 and headed home; traffic was a mess. He had just heard how large this monster was, and [that] the schools and neighborhoods [were] hit, and our worst fears came true. It's the largest on record by a long shot.

There was a home for sale near his home that had an underground cellar that was locked up. I told my son to break the lock immediately and get the hell in. I have not yet been able to get back in touch with him.

-- Jerry House, Calera


Help those who have lost everything: I would like to encourage you to consider items that these families and individuals will be needing. Keep in mind, these people have likely lost everything. Simple toiletries, such as deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner, and cotton swabs are all beneficial in a time of great need.

Simple items like clean socks and underwear can bring hope in a desperate situation. Shoes, purses, pants and shirts, dresses, frocks and even smocks can bless a family who has lost it all.

-- Regina Walker, Oklahoma City


Eerie quiet after storm roars through: All roads going south to Norman were either blocked off or backed up. It was still too early for traffic signs to have been put up anywhere so nobody knew what streets were closed off until we got there. Traffic was at a standstill. Some intersections had police to direct traffic, but most didn't.

Everywhere I looked I saw police cars and fire trucks. A group of squad cars sat high on a hill, as a command post. A bulldozer drove down the middle of the road. The radio told me the National Guard had been dispatched. Troops from the panhandle were on their way. People began to gather on the corners of streets. More and more pedestrians began to line the streets. Others began to weave through the stopped traffic altogether.

These roads were quiet, peaceful. The complete opposite of what I had just come from 15 minutes prior. Horses stood idly in the fields. I thought about the farmer that was finding his own horses, ripped in two and having to make the decision to put other injured horses down himself.

-- A. Horning, Norman