All day on May 24, 2011, the weatherman was saying closets and bathrooms were not going to cut it during the severe storms crossing Oklahoma. People needed to be in underground shelters or leave town.
We didn’t have a shelter in our Moore, OK home and unbeknownst to Dave, one of those storms was headed that way, He found out the next morning, May 25, which was also his last day in Djibouti and Africa. “The news reported a tornado went through Chickasha (OK). Those storms normally track toward Moore. I couldn’t call Vicki until evening. Sure enough, that storm tracked to Moore,” he wrote in his journal.
Although Moore was known as a tornado magnet, we’d only had one other tornado warning in May of 2010. The newscasters did such a good job of pinpointing the location of any potential storms right down to the time and intersection. But May 24 did not look good for anyone along the Interstate 35, Interstate 40 and Interstate 44 corridors.
“It was hard not to be anxious because I was not there with Vicki,” Dave said. “I figured she probably would go to the next-door neighbors who had a shelter. But I didn’t know that for sure,” he said.
But that is exactly what she did. Vicki said when she heard the part about the closet not being safe, she called one neighbor to see if the town had a shelter and then she called the next-door neighbor. “All I said is this is Vicki and Lauri said come on over,” Vicki said.
Vicki packed an emergency backpack with her medicines, reading the material and other essentials and when the sirens sounded, she headed to the neighbors. Dave also wondered what Vicki did with the cats and she said she left them at the house.
“I didn’t feel I could bring them into our neighbor’s shelter and I thought they would be safer outside of their cages because they could hide under furniture, so I let them be and prayed that was the right decision,” Vicki said.
The tornado heading toward Moore was an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. It did a lot of damage south of town, but just as it reached Moore, it stopped. North of Oklahoma City, an EF5 left a swath a half-mile wide and was on the ground for more than an hour. In Piedmont, OK about 32 miles northwest of Moore on the other side of Oklahoma City, a mother and her three children, all under the age of 5 were in the bathtub in their home. They were thrown from the house. Emergency workers found the mother and two of her children near a lake. They were med-evacuated to a hospital, but the one son was missing. The youngest child died at the hospital and they didn’t find the boy until two days later in the lake. He drowned. The mother was five months pregnant. She and her daughter recovered and she gave birth to a healthy baby four months later.
“That story just broke my heart. I could not begin to comprehend what that family was going through,” Vicki said.
Nine people died that day in those storms.
And Dave, nine hours away could not contact Vicki until the evening of the 25th. “The fact that I couldn’t just pick up the phone and call Vicki just made me impatient for my evening to come so I could talk to her,” Dave said.
“Thank You, God, that she was okay,” Dave wrote.
The tornado was on the ground but skipped over Moore. It touched down again on the other side of the city and was on the ground for about an hour. It was a very big storm. The whole area of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri experienced numerous tornadoes that week including Joplin, Missouri where 158 people died in an EF-5 tornado.
At least Dave had a home to come back to.