It's a wrenching, emotional feeling to see your house destroyed, all your possessions spread across the front lawn and not know if your neighbors and animals are safe, survivors of two tornadoes said Wednesday.
“It was kind of like someone hit you right in your gut to see your house in pieces like that,” said Brad Beller, whose home in McClain County was destroyed Tuesday.
But in the aftermath, as strangers, colleagues, students and a small-town mayor helped pick up the pieces, it was hard not to be in high spirits.
“Some people call a tornado an act of God, but the act of God is when people come out to help, strangers. People from local restaurants brought food, people we didn't know asked us if we needed any heavy equipment,” said Ed Neuenschwander, whose house in Piedmont was leveled by a tornado.
Neuenschwander, chairman of the physics department at Southern Nazarene University, and his wife, an elementary schoolteacher in Bethany, were on their way home when a twister that started several miles southwest passed through their neighborhood.
“We pull up into the driveway; there was no house, just a pile of rubble and our pickup sitting on top of our Toyota,” Neuenschwander said. “I would have liked to see how that happened.”
One of their horses died, but both of their dachshunds survived the storm locked in their kennels and sheltered by a bureau that fell just right.
Wednesday, physics professor Mark Winslow taught Neuenschwander's class at SNU.
“At first break some students just said we can't be here in class, we have to go help,” Winslow said. “They care a lot about him.”
So students and faculty from SNU joined the hundreds of people helping sift through what little remained of Neuenschwander's block.
About 50 miles southeast of Neuenschwander's home, another tornado tore into the small community of Goldsby.
Beller, the football coach at nearby Washington High School, said his family had closed the storm cellar door across the street from their house just seconds before the tornado passed.
“It was really a close call,” Beller said. His wife and two young children were safe in the cellar, but the house was destroyed.
He estimated 200 people came to help him pick through debris, including a number of former and current football players.
“To see those guys show up like they did,” Beller said. “It's almost overwhelming. They showed up to work and it really means a lot to me and my family.”