For Oklahoma tornado survivors, shock follows storm
The powerful tornado that swept through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday left 24 dead. As survivors survey the wreckage, they contemplate their luck, faith and building construction. The community has seen four tornados since 1998.
Tornado survivors thanked God, sturdy closets and luck in explaining how they lived through the colossal twister that devastated an Oklahoma town and killed 24 people, an astonishingly low toll given the extent of destruction.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Facing the devastation of the Oklahoma tornadoes
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At least one family took refuge in a bathtub and some people shut themselves in underground shelters built into their houses when the powerful storm tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday.
While rescue workers and body-sniffing dogs sifted through the ruins on Wednesday, those who escaped told their stories of survival while trying to salvage what was left of their belongings.
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"Yesterday I was numb. Today I cried a lot. Now I'm on the victory side of it," said Beth Vrooman, who hid in a shelter in her garage in Moore during the storm.
The tornado's winds exceeded 200 miles per hour (320 kph), flattened entire blocks and demolished two schools and a hospital on the storm's 17-mile (27-km), 50-minute rampage through central Oklahoma.
Of the 24 people killed, 10 were children, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. About 320 others were injured. The youngest victim was 4 months old. The oldest was 63.
Authorities had said six people were unaccounted for early on Wednesday, but later in the day said all the missing had been found. Five of the six were alive and the sixth was dead but had already been included in the tornado's death toll of 24, Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings said.
Listed as the highest category of storm - an EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale - the twister damaged or obliterated 12,000 to 13,000 homes and affected an estimated 33,000 people, said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
Trying to explain the low death toll, experts cited a relatively long advance warning of 16 minutes for the tornado and high awareness of the dangers in a region known as Tornado Alley.
Even so, some survivors were astounded they made it.
Tonya Williams, 38, said she still felt in shock after surviving the tornado, as so many did, by taking shelter in a closet.
She put bicycle helmets on her 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, collected her three dogs and pushed them all into a hall closet.
"We prayed. I could feel pressure, and being sucked. I put my body over them to try to protect them," Williams said.
Neighbors dug them out. The roof and upper story of the house had collapsed into and around the closet. Williams and her children suffered only minor injuries.