It was only a cloud and in an hour’s time, it turned into a powerful, monstrous tornado. There’s never more than a few minutes to get underground, in the center part of the house or in a bathtub with a mattress on top of you. Two hundred mile an hour winds ripped through everything and left nothing but destruction and dismay.

Two elementary schools hit, businesses torn to shreds, thousands of people left without homes or cars. Loved ones and pets missing. Cell phone towers and land lines down. What do you do? Where do you go?

Thousands of Oklahomans took to the streets. They abandoned their homes and just started walking, searching for shelter. This, in a nutshell, was the chaotic scene that unfolded Monday in Moore, Okla., just south of Oklahoma City.

I lived in Oklahoma from 1997 to 2008. I moved to Southeast Texas on Jan. 1, 2009 but Oklahoma is still very close to my heart. My two older sisters live there, one in Oklahoma City. My very best friend lives in Moore, Okla. When I saw a tornado was heading towards Moore, my heart sank. I followed the news and was checking Google Maps to see if the tornado was heading towards his house. Sure enough, it was. The fear I felt Monday was the same fear I and every other Oklahoman felt on May 3, 1999 (I’ll get to that later).

I immediately started sending text messages to my friend, Chris, to check on him and his family. I received at text at 3:28 p.m., “tornado hit us.” I began to panic. I started sending messages to his family members letting them know what he told me and asking if they’d heard anything. About an hour later, his sister told me he, his wife and their two year old daughter were okay but were trapped in a storm shelter. I knew my nerves would not settle until I heard from him.

I sent a text to my eldest sister, Danielle to see if she was okay. She lives about 20 miles away from Moore but she teaches at a school not very far away from the path of the tornado. Her school and my nephew’s school were put on lockdown. The tornado came close but just barely missed them. “Praise Jesus. Thank the Lord.”

Finally, at 6 p.m., my friend, Chris called me. They were okay but the house, the cars and their pets where gone. I breathed a small sigh of relief but my heart was and still is heavy. Neighbors, a man in military attire and a gentleman from the local fire and rescue had to dig through what was left of the roof, some brick from the outside of the house and had to pull up the fallen garage door to find Chris’s storm shelter. They were given a few minutes to gather up some stuff that wasn’t damage and then they were evacuated because of a gas leak.

I was glued to live streaming news from Oklahoma City’s KFOR news station, following search and rescue operations taking place in Moore. I spent every second I could on Facebook, checking on my friends that live in and around Moore, and I kept my cell phone on me at all times waiting to hear more news from my dear friend.

Tornados are common in Oklahoma. Everyone there knows exactly what they need to do. Oklahomans take the weather very seriously and follow it closely but nothing can prepare for you for the worst possible outcome.

I remember watching the news when a tornado ripped through the same area on May 3, 1999. I’ll never forget that day…my 16th birthday. Sixty-six tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma and Kansas. The most significant tornado first touched down southwest of Chickasha (where I moved from) and became an F5, the strongest tornado there is, before dissipating near Midwest City. It tore through the southern Oklahoma City suburbs of Bridge Creek, Moore, Del City, Midwest City and Tinker Air Force Base. It caused $1.1 billion in damages and 36 people lost their lives in the tragic event.

Experts are saying Monday’s tornado was much worse than the one on May 3, 1999. As of press time, the current death toll was 24. The damage…well, it was bad. Moore is being compared to a war zone. No power or running water, debris scatter throughout neighborhoods, city streets and even across Interstate 35. The FBI and National Guard were called into to help secure the area from looters and other crime. I even heard the phrase “you loot, we shoot.” on the news that night.

And then my husband and I heard the newscaster say that seven small children drowned at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. My heart was shattered. “How? Why? Why did those babies have to die?”

I find myself battling the urge of driving back to the place I once called home to help my friends and everyone in need. But here’s the great thing about Oklahoma and Oklahomans: when people need help, everyone comes out of the wood-work to help. People were lined up to give whatever they could not even 12 hours after the tornado touched down. People rushed to the grocery store, bought package after package of bottle water and drove the streets of Moore (or rather the ones they could drive down) just to hand out water to first responders, victims and even media personnel onsite.

Oklahomans are known for having a big heart…THAT is what I love most about Oklahoma. Despite what tragedy may happen, they are always there…offering a helping hand, a warm bed, a blanket, a shoulder cry on. Oklahomans are the epitome of “love thy neighbor as yourself.”

All that being said, it’s going to take a lot to rebuild this beautiful city. So, here I am asking you help in whatever way you can. You can text “STORM” to 80888 to donate $10 to the Salvation Army; text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross; or text “FOOD” to 32333 to donate $10 to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. All donations will be donated to the local branches in Moore and will show up on your cell phone bill.

Donations are also being taken at local business listed below:

Triangle Therapeutic Physical Therapy at 5957 9th Ave in Port Arthur and 6755 Phelan Suite 28 in Beaumont.

First Pentecostal Church at 185 Camp Street in Vidor.

Premier Real Estate at 1195 N. Main in Vidor. Call 409-658-8888 for after hours donations.

Valrico’s in Nederland at 3108 Nederland Ave. They are leaving Thursday morning to bring supplies to Moore.

Please note that many don’t a place to store things. Clothes, furniture, shoes, toys should be donated at a later date. The Red Cross is currently asking for the following items: bottle water, gatorade, diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, hand towels, individually wrapped snacks, work gloves and pet supplies.

Watch out scammers and never give personal information out. Be sure you’re giving directly to a reputable organization.

“Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

A house after an EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla. COURTESY PHOTO.


About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers