Tornado prompts anxious moments

Cleanup follows deadly tornado outbreak in Oklahoma

BY BOYCE BOWDON | TECUMSEH, OK | May 12, 2010


Members of Broadway United Methodist Church in Tecumseh place high value on the stained glass windows in their sanctuary. One of the windows was blown by the high winds that struck the church. "We found the part of the glass that is the focal point showing the Holy Bible," says the Rev. Keith King. "it was in the grass, and wasn't broken. So we hope a new window can be built around it."
Credit: DNN/Boyce Bowdon

Ronnye Perry Sharp holds the for sale sign she had displayed on her car before it was sold Monday, only a few hours before the tornado struck Tecumseh, tossing a 100-year-old tree on top of the vehicle. Since the sale had not been finalized, it was still her car when the tree totaled it, but insurance helped cover the loss.
Credit: DNN/Boyce Bowdon

About 5:00 o’clock Monday afternoon, in this town of nearly 7,000 about 75 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, Keith King—pastor of the Broadway United Methodist Church—was leaving home to go mow a friend’s lawn.

His wife called him back.

“Aimee told me I had better take a look at the TV weather report,” King recalls. “So we looked at the Doppler Radar and saw the tornadoes was getting pretty hairy and coming our way fast. I decided I had better stay close to home and mow the yard later.”

Fifteen minutes later, Keith and Aimee and their two daughters—Ella Kate, who is five and Mary Beth, who is 15 months old, were heading across the street to a neighbor’s storm shelter.

“About 15 of us were in there waiting until the storm passed over,” says Rev. King. Ella Kate—the five-year-old—says she was scared. “I was praying,” she said. Did it help? “A little,” she says.

When the Kings and their neighbors came out of the shelter, they saw several big trees had blown down near them. Roofs and carports were gone.

“Our parsonage had missing shingles, “says King. “Our fence was down. Part of a neighbor’s trampoline was up against our house. But one of the most amazing sights was the big tree in our front yard. It had been twisted—a branch that had hung over the street was now hanging over our house—but the tree was still standing.”

Ronnye Perry Sharp, who lives two houses down the street from the Kings, says

she and her 80-year-old mother knew something was going to happen when the wind stopped blowing and it suddenly got quiet.

“I said, ‘Mama, it’s time for us to get in the closet under the stairs.’ Mother has a spinal cord injury and it’s hard for her to move. We got in the closet just in the nick of time.”

Several large trees in Sharp’s yard were uprooted. One fell on a car she had sold that afternoon, but papers had not been signed and the buyer had not paid for it. The car was totaled. “I’m thankful it was insured,” says Sharp. “The tree was a bigger loss. It must have been a hundred years old.”

Sharp says she feels fortunate.

“My little mother and I are still standing and our house is still standing. We didn’t lose anything compared to many of our friends and neighbors. Walk just a block down this street and you will see real devastation.”

The Rev. King and his wife have walked through the neighborhood asking people what they needed most. They’ve found a wide range of needs.

A 90-year-old woman asked for help removing a tree that had fallen on her house. Several others requested help removing trees and debris. Men from the church, equipped with chainsaws, responded quickly.

Mrs. King says during their walk through the neighborhood they asked a policeman who was directing traffic if they could get him anything. “He said, ‘Could you get me some sun screen?’ He had shaved his head recently and the sun was getting to him. So we went to our parsonage and got a big bottle of Baby Magic Sun Screen, and took it to the officer. He was pleased,” says Mrs. King, with a chuckle.

Rev. King says churches in Tecumseh work well together. Mark Winders, president of the United Methodist Men agrees. “We are like most small towns in Oklahoma,” he says. “When we see folks in trouble, we don’t ask them what denomination they are. It doesn’t matter if they are Methodists, Baptists, or atheists. We take care of each other.”

The tornado that struck Tecumseh was one of more than a dozen twisters that occurred Monday along a patch stretching from the Red River near the Texas-Oklahoma border to the Kansas-Oklahoma state line.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management initially reported that at least five persons in the state were killed, but the department revised their report Tuesday when they found that three children who had previously been reported dead are alive and being treated in an Oklahoma City hospital.

The children’s mother was killed when a tornado destroyed their mobile home. Another woman suffered a heart attack while trying to get to a storm shelter. The death toll now stands at two. More than 100 people were treated at Oklahoma hospitals for storm-related injuries and five of them are hospitalized in critical condition.

The state Department of Emergency Management reports that the twisters destroyed more than 100 homes and 40 businesses, and damaged more than 130 other homes.

Governor Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for 56 Oklahoma counties.


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