WOODWARD — Among the piles of debris and pieces of wreckage that stretch about 1,000 feet in the mobile home park, it's easy to miss the small bunch of Mickey Mouse memorabilia.
But anyone who knew the 63-year-old Vietnam War veteran who lived at the mobile home park knows it belonged to Steve Peil, whose nickname was “Mickey Mouse.”
“To know Mickey Mouse was to love Mickey Mouse,” Peil's sister, Andrea Rush, said Monday. “Every life he touched was a blessing. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for somebody. Never met a stranger a day in his life.”
Peil was the sixth person to die after an EF3 tornado sliced through Woodward on Sunday night.
Monday death toll includes two other men, Frank Hobbie and Derrin Juul, and three children.
The tornado demolished 89 homes and 13 businesses in western Woodward. At least 28 people were reported hurt, said Matt Lehenbauer, Woodward County emergency manager.
Arley Hutchison, the owner of Hide-A-Way Mobile Home Park, said the tornado destroyed nine mobile homes in the 15-acre park and damaged about four more that will have to be hauled off.
On Monday afternoon, it was obvious where the tornado hit, leaving behind it pieces of mobile homes and belongings from the families who lived at the park. The damage stretched about one-fifth of a mile.
On Monday, officials from state emergency agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured affected neighborhoods, making preliminary damage reports.
They have finished assessing damage in Ellis County and the rural parts of Woodward County and have finished about half of the reports for the city of Woodward, Lehenbauer said.
There is no timeline for how long it will take for the decision to be made as to whether the federal government gives monetary assistance to Woodward residents.
On Monday, when Rush's son asked her to sit down, she told him “No.” Every time he tells her to sit down, it's because he has bad news to deliver.
“And that's when he told me that Mickey was gone,” Rush said.
Peil was a good-hearted man who loved helping children. He got the nickname “Mickey Mouse” from a motorcycle club for Vietnam veterans, she said.
Peil's services are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, she said.
On Monday afternoon, Rush looked over at five volunteers who were sifting through what was left of her brother's mobile home, along with the mobile home of his neighbor who also died, Frank Hobbie.
“I greatly appreciate them, all of us do, not just me, but I'm speaking for all the friends and family I know,” Rush said. “I very much appreciate this because it's overwhelming; it's heart-wrenching — we lost a good man.”
The volunteers were Susan Turner, of Woodward, her daughter, Lauren Turner, and Lauren Turner's friends, Sara Acosta and Jezmyn Wallace. Timothy Walser, of Woodward, who had family living at the mobile home park, joined them.
Susan Turner, who lives in eastern Woodward, said she and her husband stood praying in their backyard, where they could see the tornado ripping through parts of Woodward, causing transformers to blow up and electrical lines to snap.
“God has been gracious not to let it happen to us, so we wanted to be there for somebody else,” Turner said.
Lauren Turner and her friends are students at Northwestern State University in Alva.
They missed a day of classes to volunteer. A group of Northwestern students plans to come back in the next few weeks.
“When I heard about it, I decided my heart was telling me to come out here to help,” Wallace said. “I felt like this was the place for me to be, instead of classes.”
Acosta and Wallace helped with relief work in Joplin, Mo., after the EF5 tornado struck in May.
Monday, they were sorting through Peil's and the Hobbie families' belongings. It wasn't easy to find toys that likely used to belong to the two girls who died at the Hide-A-Way Mobile Home Park.
“It really hurts to think the girls were out here,” Acosta said.
The group was one of several throughout Woodward helping residents affected by the tornado.
Huddled in tub
Volunteers from Christian Disaster Relief showed up in Curt and Andra Raymer's yard early Monday, clearing debris for the family.
The Raymers huddled in their bathtub early Sunday as the tornado ripped through their home, tearing all of the roof off, except for the ceiling above the bathroom where they were.
Andra Raymer said she didn't know the people in her yard, but she appreciated their kindness. Christian Disaster Relief is a public service organization of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.
Arden Wiebe, a Christian Disaster Relief volunteer from Texoma, said there's nothing better than helping others.
“I just enjoy helping people, trying to help somebody out a bit,” he said.
Along with faith groups, local businesses and national corporations are helping with the relief effort.
Doug Hurley, who has worked at Cudd Energy Services for 22 years, was helping to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for volunteers and families Monday.
Hurley, a wireline supervisor, said, “We're just helping out. That's what it's all about.”
‘Didn't believe it'
When Rachael Diercks, 13, heard Sunday night that the tornado had hit her Nana's neighborhood, she came barefoot with her father and sister in hopes to checking to see if Nana was OK.
“I didn't believe it at first,” Rachael said.
Rachael's Nana is actually the woman who watched over her from the time she was 6 weeks old until she was 10.
Debbie Whisennand and Rachael aren't related by blood but rather through the bond they share from the years of memories.
Monday afternoon, Rachael and other girls from the community stood in front of Whisennand's destroyed house, wearing leather gloves, ready to help with the cleanup.
Debbie Whisennand and her husband, Tom, got a call from their son, Gerald, about 10 minutes before the tornado hit.
They went inside their storm shelter, covered themselves with blankets and fell asleep.
They woke up to a first responder knocking on their storm cellar.
As they came out of their cellar, Debbie Whisennand looked to her left and pointed out to her husband that their shed was gone. She hadn't yet looked right and realized that her house was gone, too.
“Then I turned, and it was just shocking,” she said.
“By then, it was raining, and people were yelling and looking for family — it was just chaos.”
The Woodward Salvation Army is running out of funds to help tornado victims, Matt Lehenbauer, Woodward emergency management director, said Monday morning.
How to help
Call 1-800-sal-army or visit salvationarmyusa.org and click "disaster" link.