The Norman Transcript

May 21, 2013

Tornado rekindles nightmare storm of 1999

By Jessica Bruha and Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — For some residents of Moore, Monday’s events were a reminder of the May 3, 1999, tornado that caused devastation in the same area.

Judy Odem, who’s lived in Moore for 40 years, said she learned after the 1999 tornado that she needed to seek shelter when tornado sirens sound.

Odem lives off South Telephone Road near the Moore Warren Theater and said she watched the storm develop on TV until her television went off and then she hopped into her closet with her three dogs and lots of pillows to ride out the storm. In 1999, 43 people died in Oklahoma tornadoes.

“I could hear the whole train thing and it sounded like things were just pounding on the roof,” Odem said. “It was a nightmare. I just kept thinking it’s gonna come through, it’s gonna come through the roof.”

Odem weathered the 199 tornado with her mother in when she remembers thinking to herself, “God, if it hits us, let it be quick.”

She had a tree uprooted in her front yard and her roof sustained damage, but she got out of the storm unharmed, which, unfortunately, is not something everyone could say.

“I hear at 7-11, there was a woman and a baby killed and a man with a big gash in his back, but I heard he’s still alive,” Odem said.

A family of four sought shelter in their closet in The Fairways at Moore apartment complex. The apartment complex got a little banged up and had lots of broken windows, the family said.

“It was definitely crazy. We watched it form until it came over us and I heard a lot of commotion,” said Michael Smith, who stood telling his story with wife, Abby, and two children. “There was debris everywhere.”

“It was rumbling, the ground was rumbling and all the stuff on the ground was in the air in a circle,” Abby Smith said.

Michael said his 5-year-old daughter, Makhila, was pretty scared, but his 4-year-old son, Lebron, was showing a little more curiosity of the storm at first.

Shawn Wilson said he was in the shower when the tornado hit.

“Everything came down on top of me. Rubble was just on top of me. I was yelling for my mom and my handicapped little brother. He was right next to her. Once I pulled myself out, I found them in lying in the middle of the kitchen. My mom was holding onto my brother’s hand,” Wilson said.

“Boo” Thompson went to a shelter next door.

“You could feel it above you. It was crazy. Our dog is gone. She is somewhere. She is dead. We didn’t even think it was going to go near us, so we were outside watching it,” he said. “We dug an old lady out of my neighborhood. She was under all that stuff with a bike helmet on. She had pillows all over her.”

William Wilson said his mother, Maria Young, suffered a broken leg.

“Little brother doesn’t know. He’s disabled. We are going to try and get them to the hospital. This is me and my mom’s house. We are lucky to be alive,” William Wilson said.

Others walking through the area said whenever they went to check on children at Plaza Towers Elementary School, they talked to three sets of parents who lost their homes to the tornado, Moore resident Ron Seals said.

“They said the gym wall fell down on some kids,” Seals said.

One of the children almost seemed to have broken her back, but she could still wiggle her toes. One boy who had a broken leg had his bone sticking through the skin, Seals said.

Seals said first responders were digging employees out of the 7-11 and “there was blood all over them.”

“It’s much worse than the May 3 tornado,” Seals said. “The tornado was on the ground for about 20 minutes.”

An employee of Target in Moore said they took shelter in the freezers, one of the safest places in the building.

“We heard extreme wind and things hitting the walls,” Target employee Brett Hall said. “There were three tornado warnings, so we kept getting back into the freezers and then, after a while, we eventually came out.”

Hall said a family came into Target after the tornado to get something to drink. The family had three or four kids in Briarwood and their son had been trapped under a wall, Hall said.

A command center for first responders to check in was set up at Home Depot on SW 19th Street and South Telephone Road. An emergency management official said they were using the area for first responders to come check in and then send them out to areas they were most needed.

The official said they were receiving mutual aid from a lot of different agencies, including Guthrie, Piedmont, Purcell, Norman, Mustang, Del City, Crescent, Choctaw and many others.