The Norman Transcript

May 26, 2013

Couple’s rescue immortalized in pictures

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — MOORE - When the tornado hit the Cleveland County community on Monday, Dennis and Wilma Chastain were holding hands.

The Chastains, who will celebrate 57 years of marriage in August, did not expect photos of their rescue from the rubble to be on the front page of The Transcript Tuesday and splattered across the nation via news outlets and the Internet.

“We had gone to our doctor’s office,” Dennis said Saturday. “I had just checked the weather.”

The couple left their home in south Oklahoma City in Green Briar Estates near Westmoore High School around 2 p.m. to make a 2:30 appointment near Moore Medical Center.

Shortly after their arrival at the clinic, a woman asked everyone to move inside the exam rooms, away from the windows. People huddled down and staff passed out pillows to cover their heads.

The couple sat on the floor, holding hands.

“It was very scary to me — just the idea,” Wilma said. “You’ve seen the aftermath so many times.”

Dennis wasn’t concerned at first. In 78 years of living in Oklahoma, he’s never seen a tornado.

The sound came first, like a loud wind.

“I saw the roof lift up and fly away,” he said. “And then the wall fell in.”

At that time, Wilma’s world went black.

“Something fell on my shoulder,” she said. “There was no air, and someone said breathe. I thought, ‘am I breathing?’ I couldn’t move.”

Wilma felt like she was sucking air through a straw.

Dennis said the air was thick with dirt that filled their ears and covered their clothing.

The couple were pulled apart when the tornado hit, but Wilma could hear people talking.

A first respnder helped Dennis get the chair off his lower body, and he was able to crawl out of the rubble. He was walking, dazed and confused, blood dripping down the side of his head when Transcript photographer Kyle Phillips captured the photo that appeared on the paper’s front page.

Wilma was buried, trying to breath. A fireman kept talking to her, trying to get to her. Excruciating pain radiated from her arm and shoulder and she couldn’t move.

“I’m going to dig you out of there,” Wilma heard the fireman say.

The fireman found her, and slowly pulled her out.

“He was very gentle,” she said. “He was very careful not to make it worse.”

As the fireman lifted her out of the rubble, Phillips was there to shoot her photo, too, not knowing he had also photographed Wilma’s husband.

Someone found Wilma’s purse and returned it, but she believes her cane is still buried under the rubble. The photo of Wilma’s rescue has become one of the tornado’s iconic images.

The Chastains are just happy to be alive.

“I’m so insignificant,” she said. “I think, ‘why me?’”