Last year in May, one of the most destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma history struck Moore and several surrounding communities, rivaling the May 3 tornado of 1999. According to the NOAA, this tornado registered as an EF-5 (the highest), was on the ground for 40 minutes, and grew to 1.1 miles at its widest point. It is considered to be the costliest tornado in Oklahoma history, and the fourth deadliest with 24 fatalities.

tornado funnel cloud

A funnel cloud from a tornado that would touch down in Edmond, OK on May 19, 2013

I had been traveling back and forth through Texas frequently at the time for events like BlogCon, and unfortunately the passing of my grandmother. In fact, I was on my way to her funeral when the tornado struck. The day before, another tornado actually passed about a mile or two north of my house, close enough for me to get a picture of the funnel from my front yard. I guess I was a little desensitized to the severe weather, so when I first heard that another outbreak was in progress, I didn’t think too much of it, especially being hundreds of miles away at the time. But as the afternoon went on, and national news  converged on the heart of the place where I call home, I soon realized this would be a much bigger event.

Though I live on the north side of the metro, I work with a lot of people who live in South OKC, Moore, and Norman. Two of my coworkers’ houses were damaged by the massive tornado on May 20, which would affect them for the rest of their lives, and dramatically alter the theme of the remainder of their 2013.

They would both spend the next nine months or so having repairs done to their homes, temporarily displaced from them in the process. For weeks it was difficult to even get into the neighborhoods. There were many streets where it was not even possible to tell where the houses were supposed to be.

There are countless stories of how the entire community pulled together in the days and weeks following the storm. The one that follows is that of my coworker Kim, who just this year was able to move back into her house. On May 20, 2014, Kim shared the lessons she learned with her friends, and the struggles she and her family would go through in the year following that deadly, disastrous day.

Things I’ve learned this year:

“About family:

“There is no greater fear than fearing for your child’s life. I will never forget the relief I felt when i received the text messages ‘Skyler’s ok, he’s in front of the school,’ from Jennifer (my angel) & ‘I got him’ from Brian when he made it to Skyler 2 1/2 hours after the tornado hit. Two of only three text messages that actually made it through that day, one of many miracles. The amazing feeling when we actually reached the house and I saw Skyler leaning against Brian’s truck, covered in mud and concrete, bruised, leg bleeding and the saddest face I’ve ever seen on him. He was as beautiful as the first day I held him. We take one day at a time. Nightmares started quickly and have come back the last couple of weeks with all the reminders. We had counseling early on & may need additional, hoping that things will calm down after school is out and when summer arrives. Prayers as always are appreciated. The ‘Where Was God?,’ movie preview was on prior to ‘Captain America,’ this past weekend… Sky’s words following the movie was that he knew where God was that day, he was at his school with those kids. After seeing the devastation to the school a few days after the storm hit there’s absolutely no way anyone could convince me otherwise. God kept my boy safe that day.

“I also learned that my parents are the most wonderful people I know. When it was clear we couldn’t come back home that night, there was no question as to where we would go. For that night and many, many more (9 months & 9 days lol) to come. They worked tirelessly for months helping me move my stuff out before rain destroyed even more & started the process of demo while the insurance company sat on their thumbs for 3 months. They put up with us in what quickly became somewhat snug quarters. They were patient, kind, thoughtful…there are not enough words to express how amazing they were during our darkest time.  We became so much closer, learning more about each other’s day to day led to much more understanding.  There were ups and downs, the kids became even more spoiled living with Nana & Papa lol.  Staying there gave me the opportunity to save up money for moving home, it was by far one of the best decisions through the process. Love you Mom & Dad… I can never thank you enough.

“About people:

“I have AMAZING friends!!!  The help, the offers of help, the well wishes, prayers, kind thoughts. Every single one meant so much!  Thank you all!  I have amazing neighbors that sadly, I rarely paid attention to prior to the storm, they’ve done so much for us, Mark mowed my lawn for months so we wouldn’t have to haul the lawn mower back and forth. Mike behind us has become a great friend helping to look out for me before we were able to move home.  Don’t take good neighbors for granted, they are a huge blessing!  The complete strangers coming from across the country who showed up in our little city to help. From bringing us hot food, water, toys, backpacks, to mowing the lawn, sweeping out the garage, demo and simply praying with us!  My faith in people is completely renewed.  We hear so much about the negative out there but I know there is so much more positive than we can imagine!  I saw proof!

“The things I did right and the things I did wrong through this process:

“The best thing I did was to fight my insurance company. It took an excruciating 3 months before work started but it was so worth it. My 1st adjuster offered me 1/4 of what the final cost was to repair my home. Two adjusters later and an awesome contractor who took over my fight and work finally began. All I wanted was my home back the way it was before and I refused to settle for less. What I observed from others going through what we did was that homes that were not completely totaled had to fight with almost every single company. The only exception to that was USAA, the handful of people I know with that company did not have to fight for what they received. The key is don’t settle!!!  The second thing I did right was in finding my contractor. I contacted my original builder for references, he provided me with a list of contractors approved by the Moore Home Builders Association. A-List was on this list in several categories. They required a structural engineer’s report (which I’m so glad I got in case one day I want to sell.)  I asked for a reference list and called each person on it to make sure they were satisfied. I checked the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, Google, everything I could to ensure I wouldn’t wind up as a horribly sad news story with a 1/2 complete house. A-List did an amazing job, my home is absolutely beautiful and we’re so blessed to be in it.

“…The final lesson I learned is to accept any and all forms of help offered. I’m a little stubborn, I know, I know, a shock to you all lol!  It was so hard to accept all the offers of help and even seek help. I figured it out eventually and I want to thank all the insistent helpers that were so wonderful!  I’m surrounded by amazing people! Borrowing from Randi, a neighbor fighting the same battles, I’m forever grateful!!!

“Finally, what I’ve learned about myself. Today has been the most emotional, amazing, exhausting day!  I was nervous going into it but I’ve learned not to question whether or not I can handle things.  I can and I will. Adversity definitely makes you stronger and I’ve never felt stronger or more confident in who I am.  I feel so blessed I could burst. God is so great!  I shared a YouTube video on Facebook earlier today that I heard for the first time this morning.  It’s called ‘Heartland,’ by Kylie Morgan, a young musician who lost her home in Newcastle a year ago.  She said it all so much more eloquently than I ever could. I hope you’ll listen to it. The part that spoke the loudest was a verse she shared. ‘I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born. Isaiah 66:9.’ And following that, God keeps His promises!  My family and many families in & around Moore are living proof of that. Although our lives have been forever changed and there will always be some difficulty we carry with us because of that day a year ago, we are better people in so many ways today than a year and a day ago.  There is no place as awesome as Oklahoma & there is no place like home.”

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