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Oklahoma tornadoes: Families talk about experience and plans

The importance of family mentioned often.
BY BRYAN PAINTER bpainter@opubco.com Modified: May 26, 2011 at 9:27 am •  Published: May 26, 2011

Tiffany Johnson put her finger on what she was most thankful for Wednesday.

Her finger partially covered the word “family” on a photo frame bearing a picture of her and husband Duane Johnson taken last Christmas.

“That's everything,” she said looking at the word. Duane nodded his head in agreement.

On Tuesday, Duane stepped out of a neighbor's storm shelter. He walked to the red dirt cliff along the creek between their two-story home and the neighbor's house in northeastern Canadian County.

“He turned around and walked back, looked at me and said ‘We're homeless,” she said.

Less than a year ago they moved into the two-story log-style home Duane Johnson had built. Now it's gone. As is the building that housed his business, D&E Custom Curb and Concrete.

“What are you going to do?” he asked and then answered his own question. “That was the first house I'd built. Now I'm getting ready to build another.”

The Johnsons and others who survived a tornado that damaged areas in Piedmont and Guthrie Tuesday were thankful the twister spared their families.

Riding the storm out

The power went out, Kiley Witte's television went black and he left the red brick house where his family lives along State Highway 74, about four miles south of SH 33. He walked to the nearby in-ground circular concrete storm shelter.

His wife Kelli Witte and their son, Cooper, 2, were safe at her job at Chesapeake. So the 34-year-old, who works for Gary Smith at the 4/S Ranch, took his chocolate lab “Husker” to the shelter.

Kiley Witte got down on the floor away from the two latched swinging doors and “covered my ears because it was unreal how loud it was.”

“I'd never been around one, never even seen one,” he said. “I didn't even see that one.”

What he did see when he exited was Smith's shop, which contained tractors, wheat trucks and other equipment, was destroyed. Then he looked over his shoulder to the house. All that remained of the three-bedroom, two-bath home was the shower and master bedroom.

The tornado tossed a 32-foot long livestock trailer from the barn about a quarter of a mile into a field of alfalfa.

But when asked what was important the day before the storm, he said, “My family.” What was important the day after? “My family,” he answered.

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