Yesterday, an EF-4 (most likely an EF-5) came within 5 miles of my house. My house, where our 7 month old son was sitting in the bathroom with his dad, after being sent home from daycare at 1 p.m. I had gotten the call at 11:30 a.m. that they were going to close school, but I was in Dallas (3 hours south) on my way to a golf tournament for a professional organization where I’m the chapter president. My husband was not happy to have to pick up my son early, but never again will we EVER question the actions of the Director of that school.
My husband started sending me info at 2:45 yesterday including a picture of our son strapped in his car seat in the bathtub. (Surprisingly, there are few basements here because of the sandy/clay earth.) He said the sirens had gone off and that we had no rain or hail or anything at our house. But then the reports from him started getting more graphic:
He was giving me locations and landmarks. I knew them well. We drive through there. We shop in those shops that are now reduced to rubble. I started getting e-mails from our daycare director about not hearing from families that live in the area yet and if you did, please let her know. I had an OU hat on during the golf game and people were stopping me to ask if I had heard and if I knew anyone who was hurt. While I did finish out the game (my family was fine, our house was standing and it was still storming between Dallas and Norman, so I couldn’t have gotten home anyway), I spent my iPhone battery texting, being on Facebook, looking for news sources–anything to get the info. It’s a helpless feeling knowing that’s happening and not being there with your family.
While I am not a native Oklahoman (St. Louisan, actually), I have been here for almost 4 years. I met my husband, got married and we had our son here. Storms are common here; storms of this magnitude are not. We have the luxury of having the National Weather Center with the Storm Prediction Center located on the southern edge of town. (Our Daycare director got the info from someone who works there and sends his son to our school.) We watch radars with colors that go to pink to purple to black to white with intensity. We know words like Wall Cloud, Hook Echo and Stinger. Our weather people can pinpoint a storm location to the block and tell you within a minute of when it will hit. We are prepared the best we know how. This is not something you can prepare for.
The trip home was tough. I am OK with driving after dark and was ready to do so. I had called my mom to tell her that we were OK and she started telling me about what she was watching on the news and the Weather Channel. I started crying when she was talking about the school. I cried harder when I told her that CJ was sent home early that day as a precaution … I was so thankful.
The normally three-hour trip took almost four when I drove into the end of a storm, half-way home. I called my husband about 20 times on the trip, and my mom about five. I got home at 11 p.m. and checked in on my son, who had been asleep for four hours. He had dirty pants, so I changed him; he slept through it. I picked him up to put him back in bed. I started crying. Very hard. Uncontrollably. I had my son. He was safe. He was here. With me. I was not a mom who had to try to deal with my son NOT coming home, along with not having a home, car, and all the other things. It was humbling. I was so thankful.
Oklahomans are a resilient, hardy, strong-willed, genuine, kind-hearted people. Not many are from here originally (we are young state – 1907!), but have come, stayed and grown to love it here. After the OKC Bombing in 1995, the term “Oklahoma Standard” was born. It’s the pride that Oklahoman’s share – this sense of wanting to help, to give, to open their doors, to love their neighbors. But it’s not just when tragedy strikes – it’s always, every time, everywhere. It’s not only until the news crews are gone, the danger has passed and the clean-up is over. It. Never. Stops. It’s the way of life for the people who live here. I saw it first in 1995 after the bombing, first-hand in Tulsa, two weeks before graduation from college and I’ve seen it countless times over the last four years I’ve been here. I saw it today at the store when I was going to buy food for my son and almost couldn’t because shelves were getting bare and every cart had water, diapers, formula and other supplies that had been requested. Countless drives for supplies have been started. The University of Oklahoma and other colleges have opened their dorms for displaced families. I found myself offering to open my house to the parents of a college friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, because they lost their house yesterday and were trying to relocate here.
The full magnitude of this destruction is far from over. The days and weeks ahead will be hard and painful. And while Oklahomans are a strong people, we need all the support and love we can get from everyone. Do consider giving to one of the organizations that have sent teams here to help (there are lists everywhere).
Above all, we appreciate all that we have been given.
Shannon G. is a guest writer that revived her blogging after the Oklahoma tornadoes.