Oklahoma tornadoes: Families talk about experience and plans
Tiffany Johnson put her finger on what she was most thankful for Wednesday.
Her finger partially covered the word “family” on a photo frame bearing a picture of her and husband Duane Johnson taken last Christmas.
“That's everything,” she said looking at the word. Duane nodded his head in agreement.
On Tuesday, Duane stepped out of a neighbor's storm shelter. He walked to the red dirt cliff along the creek between their two-story home and the neighbor's house in northeastern Canadian County.
“He turned around and walked back, looked at me and said ‘We're homeless,” she said.
Less than a year ago they moved into the two-story log-style home Duane Johnson had built. Now it's gone. As is the building that housed his business, D&E Custom Curb and Concrete.
“What are you going to do?” he asked and then answered his own question. “That was the first house I'd built. Now I'm getting ready to build another.”
The Johnsons and others who survived a tornado that damaged areas in Piedmont and Guthrie Tuesday were thankful the twister spared their families.
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Riding the storm out
The power went out, Kiley Witte's television went black and he left the red brick house where his family lives along State Highway 74, about four miles south of SH 33. He walked to the nearby in-ground circular concrete storm shelter.
His wife Kelli Witte and their son, Cooper, 2, were safe at her job at Chesapeake. So the 34-year-old, who works for Gary Smith at the 4/S Ranch, took his chocolate lab “Husker” to the shelter.
Kiley Witte got down on the floor away from the two latched swinging doors and “covered my ears because it was unreal how loud it was.”
“I'd never been around one, never even seen one,” he said. “I didn't even see that one.”
What he did see when he exited was Smith's shop, which contained tractors, wheat trucks and other equipment, was destroyed. Then he looked over his shoulder to the house. All that remained of the three-bedroom, two-bath home was the shower and master bedroom.
The tornado tossed a 32-foot long livestock trailer from the barn about a quarter of a mile into a field of alfalfa.
But when asked what was important the day before the storm, he said, “My family.” What was important the day after? “My family,” he answered.
Wife Kelli Witte was going through what was left, and mentioned a clear crate. The standout basketball player at Heritage Hall High School went on to play at East Central University at Ada. Before each game, her father Mike Donovan, would give her a card and a yellow rose. The cards would read, “Kelli you are a superstar, go get them. Love Dad.”
With a little insulation on the box, Kelli Witte pulled the lid back Wednesday and took out the stack of cards. She'd kept every card. These were another reminder of what mattered most, family.
Although the storm shelter door was pinned and locked, it was still bowing, Becky Brown said. Her husband Chad Brown, an Edmond police officer who lives in the Wolf Creek Lake addition, was holding onto it with both hands.
Behind him were his family and three other families in the center of the shelter. The adults were huddled around the children.
“We were praying,” she said.
Becky Brown said the pressure was more noticeable to her than the sound as the tornado moved through.
The tops of the shelter vents were ripped off and the rain and some small debris started falling in. They continued to pray.
After the tornado passed, Chad opened the hatch and realized their two-story home was destroyed.
“I will say this,” Becky Brown said. “I had a best friend who was about killed in the May 3, 1999, tornado in Moore. She has had 17 reconstructive surgeries.
“That's why we have a storm shelter.”
Not a good sign
Richard Rice, 75, his wife, Loretta Rice, and son, Rick Rice, went down into the storm shelter in the garage floor of their Guthrie home.
Way back in 1947, he'd seen a tornado in western Oklahoma near Leedey. But he just saw that one, no close call.
Knowing Tuesday's storm had passed he slid the door back just a little and noticed that the garage door was still there Then he slid the shelter door back even more and the saw the insulation and thought “we've got problems.” Rice exited the shelter.
“You know you're really in trouble when you walk in the kitchen and look up and rain hits you in the face,” he said. “The main thing is the weather guys gave us a strong warning and we were safe.”