May 20, 2013
A Facebook friend asked me to share my story for her to share with others. While I know she did not mean to write down every single thing that happened that day, I did. I didn't intend to, but how could I shorten a day that felt so long? I may as well post it on my blog in case anyone wanted to know what we went through. There are no stories of me being a hero, doing all of the right things, or acting selflessly. I just tried to keep things together while I could, stay in teacher mode as long as possible and after that I let it go.
The day started out like any other....well, any other in May. We knew there was a chance of bad storms, but we are in Oklahoma so that's not unnatural for this time of year. Matt and I have lived in our house for 4 years and have seen "tail hooks" and storms breaking from our backyard, which opens up to an empty field. Storms have seemed to go over us or break apart before us, so even though we were aware, we just knew to be cautious. Of course being a Texas gal, storms still make me feel unsettled and being six months pregnant doesn't help. I just asked him to be sure to be home if there were bad storms heading our way because I knew I couldn't lift a mattress to put over me in our bathtub. (Deemed the safest part of our house since we never invested in a $$$ storm shelter.)
All during the day students were being checked out. I kept an eye on the weather but at noon it didn't indicate the nearness of a catastrophic storm. We were doing a fun science experiment so when my afternoon class began, the kiddos were so excited to be "playing with water and pennies". That's about the time that more and more of the little darlings were getting checked out. I talked to my coworker and she told me my husband was trying to get ahold of me. So, she watched my remaining students while I called him. He said, it looks like hail and high winds but that is about it. This was close to 3:00. As I'm talking to him, he changes his tune. He says, "Ummm, storms are really picking up and it looks like we are right in the path." Of course, I start internally freaking out because he is always so rational and knowing he was a little concerned scared me.
I asked him to get the dog and come to my school. He said, "There is no time. It's not safe." I told him to be sure to take shelter, since he typically watches the storms. He said he wouldn't put himself in a position that he would be in danger. He promised. We said our " I love you's" and hung up as my principal came down the hall. He said we need to move the students to their safe rooms. That would be my room. So, I tell the students we are going to have another class in our room so we would have to continue our experiment Tuesday.
I had been cleaning out my room so I found this "Would you Rather" game and had the kids sit on the floor in a safe area by me, while my teammate kept an eye on the storm. We played many rounds and the students had no idea what was going on. I swear they kept me calm. There's something about having to be in strong, teacher mode. I had no other choice. My teammate had the live news feed while our administrators kept circulating the halls informing them of what was happening. Our admins asked us to gather our students and move them one more room up so the students would be in a more central location.
Our game stopped as we grabbed our purses and flashlights. We had the students take cover in the next classroom. We kept the lights on, told the kiddos they would be okay, and just asked them to play a game with their neighbor. Some of the 3rd graders in our room were crying as more and more parents were coming and checking out their students. I know they just wanted their parents, and honestly I just wanted my husband.
It came to a point where my assistant principal came to our door and with the widest of eyes said, "Shut the door, duck and cover." Of course the classroom got quiet as our students followed procedures perfectly. We had two other parents in the room with us because it came to a point where they could not safely leave our school without risking their lives. (I'm still a little in the dark at this point on the storm. We tell the students they are okay and doing a great job.)
Then, I heard the live news feed say there was a tornado by Indian Hills and 164th street. My teammate looked at me with tears in her eyes and I said to her in a low voice that my husband was in that area. She said, "I know honey." I couldn't get my thoughts together. I thought he, my dog, and/or our house were gone. I knew it wasn't slowing down. We knew it was headed right for our school.
Again, I told the students they are doing so good. I said, "You will all be okay, I promise." I then stopped to pray that I would be able to keep my promise to these little lives. My teammate was rubbing backs as more students were crying. The power went out. She came and knelt down next to me and we held hands. I prayed out loud over us in an attempt to comfort those around me. I asked God for His mighty strength to divert the tornado and take care of our loved ones who we were separated from. I asked Him to put His arms around our children and to bring them comfort. I told Him I believed that whatever happened, was supposed to happen and that I fully trusted Him. In His name, Amen.
We started to hear the loud sounds of debris hitting our building, then the sound of the wind, and what seemed like helicopters buzzing outside our school. As this was happening, I sat on my knees praying again, out loud. Lord, please let this pass. We trust in You.
Having a belly in front of me, I could not duck and cover in the right position and I didn't want to lay on my side. I figured if something hit me, it would hit my back. I'd rather that than my precious baby. It felt like forever but I'm sure it was not.
When there was enough silence that we felt safe, we opened our doors to see our coworkers and other students breathing sighs of relief. Most of the moments following were a blur. We hugged our children who were crying and told them they were okay. My teammate took some to the restroom in our dark school. Students saw parents, administrators, teachers, their peers. We all needed to see that. We were okay. God answered our prayers and that tornado veered to the left missing our school.
We knew there was going to be major destruction. People started getting calls from loved ones and I took a moment to try and call mine. Last I knew the tornado, which I knew was big, was right by my neighborhood. Of course I couldn't get a call out. When I did, it went straight to his voicemail. I got a call through to my mother, who was trying to be strong but she was hysterical to hear my voice. I told her I couldn't get ahold of Matt and "I couldn't do this" , (baby...life...cope), alone. She said she'd try to get ahold of him. I had to help the students that were getting checked out but I could not get ahold of my other half. I went back and forth, taking breaks to get through to my husband.
My coworkers, my family here, were checking in on me. They know. I love, love, love my job but all I wanted to do was get through that storm for those babies and then know my love was okay. I wasn't one of those strong, heroic teachers in that moment. I was an emotional, pregnant wife. I was a mother who needed to know Cambree would meet her daddy. I stepped outside to call again and prayed. God don't let this be our story. Don't let this be how it ends. I know you can make miracles happen and I trust in You. Just let me hear his voice. That's all I need.
I was crying then because I knew I sent my husband home from work that day. Who would've thought it would hit during the day? I thought I put him in danger. As my prayers ended and started back up again, I kept feeling cool breezes brush over me. I know it was God's presence. It started to calm me because I knew He was in control. I finally got a call through to my husband. It may have been 20 seconds but it was enough. I completely lost it hearing him say hello. We made sure we were okay as both of us were crying when the phone went out. He was on his way to my school and immediately turned around to go help at Briarwood. On the north side of our neighborhood, the tornado hit houses, but across the street, it practically destroyed the elementary school and the neighborhoods by it. I love my husband's servants heart. He was able to hug people, help pull animals out from rubble, and just be a presence in the aftermath that destroyed lives and shook our community to the core.
After the stress of not knowing and being anxious, I had some lower cramps and thought I may have put my daughter in danger by letting my emotions take control. Coworkers had me sit and brought me orange juice. I got up after she kicked me letting me know she, too, was okay. Kids were walked down to the cafeteria where they got waters. Parents were frantically arriving to hug their own children. We started hearing what areas were destroyed.
I was given permission to go home and see how my side of town was. I'm so glad I got to head home when I did. It only took me about 45 minutes. (Usually a 10 minute drive.) Others had to wait hours to get to their homes. My friends had checked in with me, everyone was safe. A few of them lost their homes, but we were all accounted for. Driving down the street, I saw minimal damage. There was a large twisted trampoline a few houses down. There was debris of insulation, clothes, paper, pieces of garage doors, tin, etc. everywhere.
Matt wasn't home but I knew he was okay. I had received a text saying he was helping at Briarwood. About 20 minutes later Matt got home to me waiting outside the house. We both embraced for such a long hug as we had tears in our eyes over what had just happened. We went in the house and saw our back fence was down, debris was all over our yard, but nothing major at all. He then told me about how bad things were that he saw when he was across the street. He said so many people needed help. We got into comfortable clothes and headed to the north side of our neighborhood to see where we could help. Unfortunately by then the military had shut it down so we couldn't help in the areas most devastated. We were able to drive a woman close to the high school as she had been trying for over an hour to get to the school.
After taking it all in and realizing we couldn't help much, especially being pregnant, we went home to no electricity, no water, and the bad smell of a gas leak. We knew we had to get out because of the fumes. It took us 4 hours to get to his parents house in Edmond. This usually takes 45 minutes. There was so much destruction that roads were shut down and traffic was terrible. We talked in the car about our experiences. We talked about how we felt so lucky, yet guilty to feel so relieved. How did we both escape the tornado by less than half a mile while others lost so much? We could not explain it and we know it's not for us to understand.
Everyone I knew was okay. A handful lost their homes completely, but we were all accounted for. A true blessing. I saw a Facebook post with the scripture indicated on the shirts I helped to design. It hit home because I know for a fact that many people around the town, state, country were praying as well. And God heard us. My friend mentioned that we should make it into a T-shirt and donate the proceeds. I had a company in mind that I've always liked, and that's how we are going to try to give back. I feel so helpless because I can't lift things, bend over constantly to pick up trash, but I can pray and I can get money together to help out people who truly need it. So with that our shirt was made. I'm hoping friends from Texas and Oklahoma will give to this cause so we can help as many families as possible. 13,000 homes were destroyed. It's the least we can do.
Today I called a few places for a quote on a storm shelter. Matt said in that moment when he saw the tornado, he has never been that scared in his life. We never want to be unprepared. We heard that something like 101 people were pulled out of their storm shelters. 101 lives saved. So, whether we stay in this house a year longer to afford the shelter or not, we are going to get one. I always want to know that my family has a safe place to go. If my family is not home, then my neighbors can use it. It will be worth it if, God forbid, this happens again.
God bless you all. Thank you for lifting us up in prayers.