I don’t claim any kind of sixth sense about the weather. But experience has given my other senses an ability to tell—to within an acceptable margin of error—when there will be a tornado nearby. The air has a peculiar feel, smell, sound, and even taste that I cannot describe if you’ve never experienced it yourself. In my family, we call it “yellow.”
It was yellow outside yesterday in Moore. We went through this in 1999 and 2003, and I just happened to be back in town when the most recent Moore tornado hit. We have this down to a science: when there is circulation near Chickasha or Bridge Creek, we start taking supplies (and dogs, if there is room) to the cellar. Then we’re prepared so that if the sirens go off, we grab the children and run to the cellar. We can be outside and underground in fewer than 60 seconds.
Today was the first tornado for my wife and kids, and we still made it almost without a hitch. As the radio announced that the tornado was crossing the Canadian River, I went to close the door, only to find out that the pulley system on it was tangled—and the only way to close it completely was for me to stand outside and force it closed. I tried for a few minutes to fix it, but as the tornado came closer to Moore, I went underground and secured the door with a chain as best I could. The door was still open about 18 inches, so we corralled the children in the far corner of the cellar and waited. And we prayed.
Before the storm hits, there are a few seconds of eerie calm. The wind stills. Even the sirens go quiet. Then, things suddenly change. First the sirens sound with greater intensity. Then the wind whips through violently. And then there’s the storm itself. Contrary to what every post-storm news interview ever has said, a tornado sounds nothing like a freight train. It sounds like the low rumble of an engine, or like the earth itself is groaning. In fact it reminds me of the verse in Romans, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
When things go quiet again, you feel a rush of cold air and begin to peek out to see if it’s safe to come up. We did just that, and were grateful to see that my parents’ house was still standing. But we knew that a large part of Moore had not been so fortunate. Moore is my hometown. There are so many people and places there that I love, and I have seen it devastated before. I shuttered to think what the rest of town looked like.
My first clue was a photo on Twitter, showing a gas station about a half mile away in ruins. My wife and I decided to walk closer to SW 4th Street to check on friends. There was little evidence of a tornado on my parents’ street, but as we walked further, the debris became progressively worse. 4th Street looked like a war zone.
By the time we reached Southgate Baptist Church (our former home church), we could see that there was damage in the Plaza Towers neighborhood south of 4th. At the church, debris littered the landscape. Massive trees were uprooted. Even their storage trailer had been thrown on its side. But the church’s buildings were still standing and had no visible significant damage (from what I could see).
Behind the church, we got out first real view of the damage in Plaza Towers. “Damage” is an understatement. The area was devastated.
Traffic was already snarled on 4th Street. Police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and EMTs—from several departments—were so busy with rescue efforts, that civilians had set up a roadblock at 4th Street and Janeway Ave and were directing traffic. Though traffic was backed up and cars were being diverted, there was no problem getting around on foot. At this point I should mention, though, that we stayed out of the way of all law enforcement officials and the rescue operations that were underway.
Cutting through the Little River Park and avoiding power lines, we saw heartbreaking scenes as people in the neighborhoods off of Telephone Rd sifted through what remained of their homes. Some seemed to be in a daze as they searched for something, anything they could salvage.
One family with two little girls had nothing left but their dining room table. And there they sat.
The hospital looked like a shell of its former self. We were thankful to hear later that the second floor, where the maternity ward is located, had been successfully evacuated.
The field where kids used to play baseball was now a pile of crumpled cars.
The 7-11 station at 4th & Telephone was gone. We were told that a mother and her 7 month old baby had been killed there. We were there and we cried when they pulled a third body from the rubble. We have no idea who it was, but we know that he or she was somebody’s child, and that thought was more than I could bear.
In some parts of town, the devastation was so complete that we could clearly see buildings a mile away from us—everything in between was gone.
The tornado was so strong that massive marble headstones were removed from their foundations.
So many people are hurting after this storm. Not just physically. The last count I heard on the radio around 10 pm said that seven elementary school children had been killed, and that at least twenty more were missing. Over twenty families sent their kids off to school this morning not knowing that they would not be home tonight.
Pray for the people of Moore. Pray for those who will be ministering to them in the coming months as they rebuild. And above all, pray that the people of my hometown will find peace in the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are interested in helping with relief efforts, Southgate Baptist Church will be providing meals and other necessities to people in the community. Contact them at (405) 794-6646.