Oklahoma Neighborhood Bands Together to Survive Tornado

As a mile-wide tornado chewed across Moore, Oklahoma, Sonnia Conway trusted her life to a bathtub at her house on Southwest 14th Street, squeezing in with pillows, blankets and her four dogs.

She didn’t join the 30 other neighbors who rushed to Alma and Harley McLaughlin’s storm shelter down the street. The McLaughlin’s don’t allow pets and Conway wouldn’t have left her dogs or cats anyway, she said.

“It was a miracle,” said Conway, 47. “Trees on each side of my house were destroyed, but the house was still standing. It was like the hand of God protecting us.”

The neighborhood of single-story houses traced a range of damage and emotions after the most powerful of three tornadoes that have struck Moore since 1999. Six blocks away, homes were obliterated by winds of more than 200 miles an hour (322 kilometers an hour).

Among those sheltered at the McLaughlin’s was Glenda Tannehill’s grandson, a pupil at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where students numbered among the 24 killed by the storm.

“We were lucky to get in before it hit,” said Tannehill, 53.

Mike Blazer, 45, another in the storm shelter, rushed out after the twister passed to Plaza Towers, where he and his wife found his son Joey.

“The school was leveled,” Blazer said. He said he helped rescue some students trapped there.

Neighborhood Heroes

Glenda Tannehill, 53, said the McLaughlin’s were heroes for opening their storm shelter. Rita McLaughlin would have none of such talk.

“We’re here for them, and we know they would do anything to help us,” she said.

William Diggs, 28, had scooped up his three sons, ages 3, 2 and 10 months, and rushed to the McLaughlin’s. He couldn’t keep from peeking out the shelter door as the storm passed to the northwest, Tannehill said.

Diggs, who spent much of yesterday cleaning up his yard and helping his neighbors, said he’d rode out Hurricane Andrew in Florida. The 1992 storm that struck as a Category 5, the most powerful, caused $25 billion damage in the U.S.

“Andrew was a little bit more vicious,” Diggs said.

Eduardo Perez, 21, chose to stay in his house a few doors from the McLaughlins, hoping to record the storm on his iPhone. Perez said he abandoned the notion as the storm grew closer and fiercer.

“I wanted to record all of it, but got scared,” he said.

Afterward, Perez said he rode his bicycle to a neighborhood closer to the center of the storm’s path. It was a scene of crushed cars, twisted tree trunks and houses reduced to their frames, he said. He said he helped two elderly people get to hospitals.

Conway said she stayed in her bathtub after the tornado passed, while her dogs Gigi, Onyx, Yorkie and Chapel, who had whined through the storm, grew quiet.

“I didn’t want to get out of the bathtub,” she said. “I knew a lot of people had gotten hurt or killed. I felt blessed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Darrell Preston in Moore, Oklahoma at dpreston@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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