Oklahoma tornadoes: Calumet and El Reno area residents clean up storm debris
CALUMET — Susan Sleeper and her three teenagers barely made it the mile down the road to the Maple Public School before the tornado swept through their neighborhood.
“As we got to the building, we heard the roar, just like a freight train,” she said.
She said she could see the tornado's cone, and once inside the school she could hear debris hitting the metal building.
“We could see the walls waving, just like someone was pushing them,” she said.
Sleeper said her husband, Charles Sr., was inside a Walmart in El Reno where employees wouldn't let him leave, fearful for his safety.
“He was just worried about getting to us to see if we were OK,” she said.
Wednesday morning, Sleeper and her family picked through the rubble of what once was their home. Her dogs, Spike and Princess, guarded the family car. Clothing and stuffed animals clung to tree branches across the road.
A puppy was killed by the storm, Sleeper said. A neighbor found it and called Sleeper and her husband over to bury it before the children saw it.
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Ella Sleeper, 13, said she was sad about the puppy.
“I just want to close my eyes and go home,” she said.
That will be awhile.
Susan Sleeper said the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe will relocate her family, temporarily putting them in a hotel.
Ella Sleeper found two ceramic cats that survived the storm. The family's 13 live cats had yet to turn up.
Susan Sleeper said her house was brand-new when she moved into it six years ago.
“Now, it's gone in an instant,” she said.
Terry Floyd, community services director for the city of El Reno, said in addition to the six deaths confirmed in Canadian County, there were about 20 injuries reported from Tuesday's storm.
Floyd said he'd fielded more calls from people wanting to help or make donations than he had from property owners asking for help.
El Reno fire and police departments, along with first responders from Canadian County and surrounding areas, searched an 18- to 20-mile debris path Wednesday, Floyd said. He estimated there was damage to 30 to 45 homes in an area primarily west of El Reno, near the U.S. 270 and Interstate 40 intersection in Canadian County.
Areas north and east of El Reno received heavy damage and homes were damaged or lost in the Skyline Addition and near U.S. 81 and Britton Road, as well as south of Concho, Floyd said.
Some structural damage was reported at Fort Reno west of El Reno.
The Sleepers and their neighbors are in rural Canadian County but have Calumet addresses. The area is about 15 miles west of Oklahoma City.
Miranda Lewis had tears in her eyes as she searched for items to salvage at what had been her home along Maple Road.
“I knew it was bad, just not this bad,” she said.
Lewis' husband and son were in Elk City when the storm struck. She drove four miles to get into a storm cellar with a friend. The storm passed within a half mile of her, she said.
“You could definitely hear it,” she said. “It sounded like a high-pitched scream. Then it got completely still. It took a while to pass.”
There were some triumphs for Lewis as she searched.
She held up a small metal elephant with a curved nail that held her husband's gold wedding band. She also found her wedding dress unscathed and the boots her husband wore to their wedding.
“Now if I find my bouquet,” she said, “that would be a real kicker.”
She also found a board used to mark the height of her son Copper for each of his six years.
Lewis said the family has insurance and the help of family and friends.
Neighbor Roy Ramey said he heard the storm warnings and threw his wife in the truck. He pointed to a dented bumper and broken front window, both damaged by storm debris.
Ramey said he had to shoot one of his horses that suffered a broken leg during the storm. Two other horses were taken to a veterinarian and he was still looking for his two cats. Nothing was left of his house. A red sports car was in a nearby ravine.
The damage is “sickening,” Ramey said.