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Couple survives three twisters

It's a good thing Don Staley isn't the superstitious type.

BY PJ HELLER | MOORE, Okla. | May 14, 2003


"It's amazing to me that we got hit by three."

—Don Staley


It's a good thing Don Staley isn't the superstitious type. Otherwise, he might think his address of 1313 was somehow jinxed.

Of course, Staley might just be wondering that about himself, now that he's been hit by three tornadoes in nearly five years, the latest one an F4 twister last Thursday that leveled his home.

"I'm not superstitious," he said when asked about the significance of his street address in this town that was heavily damaged by the tornado. "We're in a tornado alley. It's going to get somebody. You never know where it's going to be."

But, he added, "It's amazing to me that we got hit by three."

Staley's house was among more than 300 homes destroyed in this community south of Oklahoma City. Overall, more than 3,000 homes, business and public buildings were damaged or destroyed in the Oklahoma City area by twisters which raked the area last Thursday and Friday, according to new figures released by state officials. Hardest hit was Moore, which had more than 1,200 structures damaged or destroyed, officials reported.

Staley is among an unknown number of Oklahomans who have been hit multiple times by tornadoes. In some cases, those affected have rebuilt on the same site, only to see their homes hit again.

Staley's first home was hit twice by tornadoes, in October 1998 when it suffered minor damage and then again on May 3, 1999, when it was destroyed. He rode out both storms inside the house.

"After that I decided that I wasn't going to ride another one out in the house," he said. "It was just a frightening, frightening, frightening sound."

So when he moved into the house at 1313 with his wife Carolyn in December 2000, he had an above-ground safe room constructed on the back patio. The concrete room has 8-inch thick walls, an 18-inch thick ceiling, a 10-inch foundation and a sliding entry door made of 12-gauge steel with three-quarter inch plywood on each side.

That's where Staley rode out the latest storm along with his dog and two cats.

"It saved my life," he said. "It came through with flying colors. It's worth a million bucks to me."

Staley's wife was at work when the twister hit.

Having gone through two previous tornadoes, Staley said he was prepared "big time" for the latest storm. That included having a box of important documents at hand that he carried into the safe room with him.

The safe room is equipped with battery-powered lights and a battery-powered television, which Staley watched as the storm closed in.

"I was watching it on TV in there," he recalled. "I could see it was coming my way and I could hear it coming. I could hear the roar."

Asked about the sound, he said, "Imagine a bulldozer with a jet engine on it. That's what a tornado sounds like. It's loud and it's noisy."

When he emerged from the shelter, he found his house in shambles with the roof ripped off. Other houses on the street were also heavily damaged or destroyed.

"In less than 10 seconds your whole life changes, from comfortable living to just destroyed," he said.

He and his wife have managed to salvage a few items from the house. On Tuesday, Carolyn Staley found a cookie jar intact and noted that it had survived the three twisters.

Staley said the first time he and his wife were impacted by a tornado, they were mostly concerned about the items they had lost.

These days, he said, "I don't care about material things."

Staley said his house was "very well insured" and urged people to make sure that they have adequate coverage.

"I learned after the first two (tornadoes) that you have to have good insurance," he said. "Those people who say they can't afford it, they've got to look into getting it because you cannot not afford having house insurance."

Staley and his wife plan to move to a more rural area not because of the tornadoes but because they don't like the noise in town and plan to build another safe room (Staley works for the company that builds them).

"When we close on whatever house we get, the first thing the crew is going to do is go over there and build mine, you betcha," he said.

Staley was asked if he felt lucky to have come through unscathed after three encounters with deadly tornadoes.

"It doesn't bother me that I got hit," he said. "I've learned to pick up the pieces and deal with it and go on with life.

"I don't believe in luck," he added. "I believe I was blessed. I believe that God was protecting me."


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More links on Tornadoes

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