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5 died when Oklahoma family fled to drainage tunnel to escape tornadoes

by Nolan Clay Modified: June 14, 2013 at 6:31 am •  Published: June 14, 2013

Leading to the tunnel is a small creek. The tunnel itself is tall enough and wide enough for most of its length that three semi trucks likely could fit in it side by side. It bends slightly underneath the parking lot of the Dell Inc. facility and empties into the Oklahoma River, where on Thursday, rowers glided by the exit.

‘I lost Terra’

Inside the dark tunnel May 31, Virginia Shrum held tight to her baby, Rose. She had a Spider-Man blanket over the baby to protect her from the wind but dropped it as it became soaked and heavy.

Terra clung to her.

The rushing water took them one by one.

“After I went down, Terra let go of me,” she said. “I kept hold of Rose. When I came back up, I was screaming, ‘I lost Terra.’ And, as I was going down that tunnel, I hit something on my left side … I hit it full force … It was some kind of wall.”

She said she was pushed out of the tunnel and into the Oklahoma River.

She said she then climbed up the rocks out of the river with Rose and collapsed on the interstate. The water had ripped her skirt, underwear and shoes off.

She said she did CPR on Rose, who had turned blue. A pickup driver stopped and took them to the hospital, where Rose spent days recovering.

“No one thought she was going to make it,” she said of her baby.

Tara, the 8-year-old, and Destiny were with Hennington but were swept away. A driver found Tara and took her to an Oklahoma City police sergeant stopped along Interstate 40.

“Tara … was soaking wet and very cold,” Police Sgt. Robert Atkins reported. “I had her sit in my police car and turned on the heater. I asked her what had happened and she told me she had fallen in the river and just gotten out.”

Hanging on to Cory in the tunnel was Betty Yeatman, who is Virginia Shrum’s biological mother.

“I never lost grip of him, never. The current pulled me down. It pulled him down with me. He drowned in the river,” Yeatman, 45, said.

Alexis had been placed in a concrete square in the tunnel wall. She was the first to be swept away.

Virginia Shrum described the daughters she lost as sweet.

“They loved to play. They loved being monkeys,” she said. She gestured to Hennington, her fiance. “They would climb on him like he was a jungle gym,” she said.

Others have criticized KFOR’s coverage. On June 3, KFOR said in a statement, “Many viewers have thanked us for providing hours of continuous coverage to keep their families safe. After every major storm, we review our coverage and the many things that make each weather event unique for the purpose of improving our coverage and our ability to forecast.”

NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.
by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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