The Norman Transcript

May 26, 2013

Carney residents recall tornado’s rampage

By Jeff Johncox
The Norman Transcript

CARNEY — It was like any other Sunday.

Pastor Mark Davis led his congregation at First Baptist Church of Carney.

Michelle Field and her husband, Billy, regulars at Chandler Friends Church, stayed home from services to work on their newly-purchased recreational vehicle.

But in the early evening, the peaceful, calm Sunday in Carney came to a violent conclusion. An EF-4 tornado skirted downtown and the schools, but plowed through the southern side of this rural, 650-strong town, destroying 30 homes.

No lives were lost.

Carney’s rural location has made it one of the over-looked communities affected by last week’s tornado outbreak. Twisters in Carney, Bethel Acres and Shawnee were overshadowed by the enormous and devastating EF-5 that tore through Moore a day later.

“We don’t have the financial resources or the manpower that bigger cities have,” said Pastor Davis, who is one of many volunteers working hard to put Carney back together. “But we take care of our own. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Davis helped oversee the unloading and dissemination of donations Saturday, six days after the tornado,.

“We were just enjoying the afternoon,” Davis said. “I was at church getting ready for a prayer meeting with our youth pastor and his wife when the sirens went off ... I said, ‘I’m not leaving until I see a tornado.’ I went outside and got a look at it from around the church and was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Davis’ son, Jonah, was home with the rest of the family, playing the video game “Kung-Fu Panda” with his little brother.

Davis met up with his family and took them to the shelter at Carney High School. He then went back to pick up a 99-year-old parishioner, getting her to safety as well.

“I just didn’t want our house to get hit,” Jonah said.

Michelle and Billy Field had just finished detailing their RV when they heard the tornado sirens. They ran the 100 yards from their mobile home to her parents’ brick house.

Michelle, her sister-in-law and Billy huddled in a small closet with their two dogs. Michelle’s mother, Cathy Perry, and disabled father, Chris, couldn’t fit in with Chris’ wheelchair. They stayed in the hallway outside.

“It really does sound like a train,” Michelle said. “It just roars.”

Chris rode out the storm in his wheelchair, covered in a blanket and clutching his poodle, Baby.

Billy threw himself on top of the two women in the closet.

The walls in the hallway buckled on top of Cathy, forming a protective A frame that saved her life. Chris was a little beaten and a little bloodied, but OK. So was Baby.

Jonah Davis was in the school shelter when the lights went out. Someone turned on flashlights and a battery-powered radio, and he could hear what was happening to Carney.

“That’s when we heard it was hitting the southeast part of town,” he said.

When Michelle exited the closet, its walls and door were the only things standing —the rest of the building was leveled. They freed her father from debris and parts of a chain-link fence.

Michelle and Billy’s mobile home was off its foundation and the new RV was flipped over.

Jessica Knox ran down the street from her mother-in-law’s house to see what became of her home and her and her husband’s business. Both were in ruins.

“It didn’t discriminate in who it hit or what it took,” she said. “It just took.”

The Davis’ exited the shelter and checked their home, which made it through the storm.

“I knew it was time to get to work,” Davis said.

And that’s what the residents of Carney have been doing since — working. They’ve done it without resources or media coverage.

But surrounded by the devastation, the people of Carney have rallied and they’re getting help.

Seventy-five organizations have worked throughout the past week to help put Carney back together, including the Cherokee High School football team, which played Carney last fall.

“We just wanted to come down and help, see what we could do,” Cherokee fullback and linebacker Alex Castor said. “We’ve helped clean some debris up, some mud, cut through some trees.”

In fact, by Saturday Carney had plenty of volunteers, clothing, food and water.

The Fields were helped almost immediately by their church family from Chandler Friends Church, which arrived 20 minutes after the twister leveled the Perrys’ home.

“The people who have needed to be here were here, and have been here,” Mark Davis said.

Police officers from Nichols Hills in Oklahoma City were helping control traffic Saturday. One volunteer traveled all the way from southern California on his motorcycle to help and let the people of Carney know the world was with them.

County emergency technicians made rounds to the volunteers on a golf cart, giving out free tetanus shots to prevent illness from stray nails or debris.

What Carney needs now is money. Some of those who lost homes have no insurance. Cleanup will take a long time, and costs money.

First Assembly of God of Carney and First Baptist Church of Carney are both accepting donations, and Carney State Bank has a fund set up to help victims recover.

Despite the hardship, Knox and her fellow Carney residents feel, well, blessed.

“You want to be mad at someone, at something, but you can’t,” Knox said. “You stand here and see so many people helping.”