Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tornado rips through families

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/22/2013

The Moore, Okla., suburb where Charlie Harnett said he used to play softball with his cousins has disappeared.

It’s buried under the rubble left by a monster tornado measuring 22 football fields wide that pulverized the Oklahoma City suburb of 56,000 people Monday afternoon, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

The Moore, Okla., suburb where Charlie Harnett said he used to play softball with his cousins has disappeared.

It’s buried under the rubble left by a monster tornado measuring 22 football fields wide that pulverized the Oklahoma City suburb of 56,000 people Monday afternoon, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

“All the landmarks are gone,” Harnett, 25, Ottawa, said. “I don’t even recognize Moore. The hospital was practically knocked to the ground. It’s unbelievable.”

Harnett, a nurse’s aide at Richmond Health Care, Richmond, said he spent Monday afternoon and evening worrying about his uncle, Allen Harnett, and numerous cousins who live in and near Moore.

“I was very, very, very stressed out,” Harnett said. “I was all over the place, trying to get information and do my job, and I have to admit I probably got a little cranky. The waiting game was the hardest part.”

Former longtime Oklahoma resident Larry Felix, chief executive officer of Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, said he found himself in a similarly agonizing situation Monday awaiting the fate of two small elementary schoolchildren.

“My sister’s husband’s family is from Moore, and for a time two elementary-age [family members] could not be accounted for,” Felix, a 1973 graduate of Ponca City [Okla.] High School, said. “It took a couple of hours before we got accountability for them.

“There was a lot of confusion. The first reports we heard were that they were in one the two schools that were hit by the tornado. Then we found out they were not in those schools,” he said. “Initial information in these type of situations oftentimes isn’t always accurate.”

Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementaries were among the scores of buildings crushed by the tornado. Of the nine children killed by the storm, seven died at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the tornado ripped the roof off and collapsed walls, CNN reported Tuesday.

All of his sister Sandra and her husband Phil Shroyer’s family members were fine, Felix said.

“They had some property damage, but I do not know to what extent,” Felix said of the Shroyer family.

Harnett found it nearly impossible, he said, to find out any information about his relatives for several hours.

“I didn’t find out until 11 that night that everyone was OK,” Harnett said. “That was like a huge weight off my chest.”

But Harnett said that brief feeling of elation was tempered with a sadness he said he felt for the lives lost in the EF-5 tornado with estimated wind speeds of 200 to 210 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

Death toll at 24

Twenty-four people were killed and more than 230 people were injured, authorities had confirmed Wednesday afternoon. Authorities said initial reports that 51 people had died were erroneous because they think some bodies were counted twice in the confusion, according to media reports.

The tornado struck at 2:45 p.m. Monday, only 5 minutes after the first warnings went out, and Moore residents had about 30 minutes to prepare for the massive twister that measured 1.3 miles wide, the National Weather Service reported Tuesday.

Allen Harnett’s single-story house was flattened in the storm, his nephew said.

“He lost his home, all his possessions, his vehicles — he lost everything,” Harnett said. “Fortunately, he was at work when it happened. No one was in the house.”

His uncle, a contractor who does inside trim work in commercial construction projects, had lived in that house for three or four years, Harnett estimated, but he was sure his uncle’s former residence located nearby — where Harnett said he had fond memories of softball games and having water balloon fights with his cousins — also was destroyed.

The longtime Moore resident also lost his four horses in the storm, Harnett said.

“There’s a large stable in Moore that was hit by the storm, and I believe my uncle had all four of his horses there,” Harnett said. “I’ve been to that stable a couple of times.”

More than 100 horses were killed at the stable, according to some media reports.

“I was told my uncle had to put down two of his horses Monday night, and that it appeared likely he would have to put down the other two as well — all four horses had suffered injuries [from the tornado],” Harnett said.

Harnett attends a family gathering each fall in nearby Duncan, Okla., for an event the Harnetts have dubbed “Christmas in October,” he said.

“We have a gift exchange,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun — we’ve been doing it for the past 10 years now. It’s hard for all the family to get together at Christmas, so we do this every October and then gather with immediate family at Christmas.”

The tone of the gathering would probably take on a different tone this fall, he said.

“I’m going to try and get down there in June,” he said. “I think my uncle is staying with my aunt in Duncan right now, but I’m not sure where he’s going to live. I know he and some of my cousins are just trying to gather up any of his possessions they can find. But, from what I was told, everything was gone.”

Ottawans offer help

Ottawa residents Helen and David Hood plan to take relief supplies to Moore late next week, Helen Hood said.

The Hoods have gathered donations of nonperishable foods, paper goods, first aid materials, diapers and other supplies in the past and delivered them to the tornado-ravaged towns of Joplin, Mo., and Redding and Harveyville in Kansas, Helen Hood said.

“We are gathering all kinds of supplies and nonperishable foods — basically anything except clothing,” Hood said. “We are planning to go late next week or whenever we gather a load of supplies. We made four trips to Joplin.”

Hood said she is hopeful local residents will be just as generous this time with their donations as they have been in the past.

Persons interested in donating supplies should take them to the General Public Transportation Office, 107 E. First St., Ottawa, during business hours, Hood said.

“We will be contacting a church or another organization [in Moore] to make arrangements to drop off the supplies, so we know they will be distributed to the tornado victims,” she said.

Road to destruction

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the storm followed an eerily similar path through Moore as the May 3, 1999, tornado that packed 300 mph winds — the highest speeds ever recorded in a tornado, they said.

A Moore couple who are friends of Felix described that tornado to him, he said.

“They got into their bathtub, and after the tornado they came out front and all the homes were still standing,” Felix said. “Then they went to the backside of their house and looked across the way, and all the homes that backed up to their property were gone. It sounds very similar [in destruction] to Monday’s tornado.”

Harnett is confident his family will rebuild in Moore, he said.

“They have lived in Oklahoma a long, long time, so they know this happens,” Harnett said. “They will rebuild and go about their lives the best they can.”

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