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Oklahoma tornadoes: Blanchard woman feared she might be ‘buried alive' when tornado hit

Mary Ritter talks about her escape from Tuesday's deadly tornado on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Mary Ritter talks about her escape from Tuesday's deadly tornado on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

— For the first time ever, Mary Ritter, 79, took shelter in her storm cellar when a massive tornado tore through the Blanchard area. When the cellar door flew off, debris poured in on top of her and she thought she might be buried alive.

“I had to climb over all this stuff to get out. I came out yelling, ‘help, help.' I came out where there used to be a porch and thought, ‘I don't have a porch left.' Then I looked around and I didn't have nothin'. It wiped me all out,” she said.

What remained of Ritter's house was stacked “sky high — and there was my car upside down on top of it,” she said.

She sat under a shade tree Thursday and talked about the experience while her children and grandchildren combed through the wreckage for photographs and pieces of jewelry. She particularly hoped they'd find her wedding ring.

A son-in-law cut trees and piled up brush to clear the five-acre piece of land that has been Ritter's home for 18 years.

Her home was one of about 200 destroyed or damaged in the Blanchard area. Another 100 to 150 homes were damaged or destroyed in Newcastle, about 10 miles to the north.

“I tell you, it made a believer out of me. I've never been to a cellar in my life, but next time they tell me to go, I'm going,” she said.

About a minute after getting inside the shelter, the tornado struck.

“It hit boom, like someone set off something. Then the lid came off and all this stuff just started pouring down the stairs. I backed up as far as I could, but I was thinking, ‘oh, Lord, I am going to be buried alive down here.'”

‘It broke my heart'

Daughter Kathy Ritter, of Oklahoma City, said she was frantic to get to her mother's place.

“I knew she wouldn't go to the shelter. I called my sister and said, ‘you know she won't go to the cellar,' but thank God, she did,” Kathy Ritter said.

Lonnie Bewley, a volunteer firefighter, was away from his rural residence helping others. He knew his wife Jennifer and their three children were safe at a downtown shelter.

“I sure didn't think about my place. It didn't occur to me anything would happen to it.

Neighbors called to tell the couple their house was gone.

“I had a deer head in the freezer I was keeping for a buddy. The freezer is still here, but the deer head is gone. Someone's going to be surprised when that turns up on their lawn,” he said.

Neighbors Todd and Sandy Miller stood in their yard and watched the tornado approach.

“When it became obvious it wasn't going to veer off in another direction, we put the kids in the truck and left,” Miller said.

They returned to devastation, a house in ruins, mangled belongings, twisted trees and shrubs buried in insulation.

Megan Rowland Kelley, of Newcastle, got home from work early, gathered her two children and a few belongings and headed for the storm cellar.

“It started to hail, then it got really quiet, so quiet you could hear a cricket. Then all the air just got sucked out of the cellar and it started screaming like a freight train. When it passed and we came out, all I could say was, ‘wow.' Pretty much everything was gone,” Kelley said.

James and Joy Clay came home to find their $300,000 house in Newcastle's Richland Park Addition demolished.

“It was a nice house. I sure loved it, but it's just stuff. We can rebuild. It's my yard I'm the most upset about,” Joy Clay said.

Giant trees that graced the property lay downed and twisted. Flower gardens, a children's playhouse and gazebo were gone.

“We'd sit in the swing out back and watch the purple martins. After the storm they were flying all around looking for their homes. It broke my heart,” she said.

Related Photos
Blanchard volunteer firefighter Lonnie Bewley surveys damage to his house sustained in Tuesday's tornado while he was out helping others. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN <strong>STEVE SISNEY</strong>

Blanchard volunteer firefighter Lonnie Bewley surveys damage to his house sustained in Tuesday's tornado while he was out helping others. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6f41fd7fae95a75039ad8584cf9a9db5.jpg" alt="Photo - Blanchard volunteer firefighter Lonnie Bewley surveys damage to his house sustained in Tuesday's tornado while he was out helping others. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY " title="Blanchard volunteer firefighter Lonnie Bewley surveys damage to his house sustained in Tuesday's tornado while he was out helping others. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY "><figcaption>Blanchard volunteer firefighter Lonnie Bewley surveys damage to his house sustained in Tuesday's tornado while he was out helping others. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1c606c985fb4d16a71b7af609cf22328.jpg" alt="Photo - Briggs Bewley, 6, throws a baseball he found in the rubble of his home in Blanchard. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY " title="Briggs Bewley, 6, throws a baseball he found in the rubble of his home in Blanchard. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY "><figcaption>Briggs Bewley, 6, throws a baseball he found in the rubble of his home in Blanchard. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN STEVE SISNEY </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1654391a7ab65d35e17cef16387a2eed.jpg" alt="Photo - J.D (Jerry) Fore stands inside his former garage with pieces of his motor home beside him on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. He lost home, trees, out buildings, expensive professional lawn tractors--everything. the only insured item was the car beside him that had less than 5000 miles on the odometer. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="J.D (Jerry) Fore stands inside his former garage with pieces of his motor home beside him on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. He lost home, trees, out buildings, expensive professional lawn tractors--everything. the only insured item was the car beside him that had less than 5000 miles on the odometer. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>J.D (Jerry) Fore stands inside his former garage with pieces of his motor home beside him on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. He lost home, trees, out buildings, expensive professional lawn tractors--everything. the only insured item was the car beside him that had less than 5000 miles on the odometer. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c0697726739de6d022cd7907d8321ae2.jpg" alt="Photo - Mary Ritter talks about her escape from Tuesday's deadly tornado on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="Mary Ritter talks about her escape from Tuesday's deadly tornado on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>Mary Ritter talks about her escape from Tuesday's deadly tornado on Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Blanchard, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure>
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