Share “For some Oklahomans, tornadoes are a...”

For some Oklahomans, tornadoes are a personal subject

Oklahomans Sue Marts Alexander and Miranda Lewis never have met, but they share a respect for tornadoes.
BY BRYAN PAINTER bpainter@opubco.com Modified: March 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm •  Published: March 11, 2013

Oklahomans Sue Marts Alexander and Miranda Lewis never have met.

Nevertheless, they respect tornado warnings more than most people, partially because of a child and a bed.

In Alexander's case, she was the child. About 8:40 p.m. April 9, 1947, a tornado struck Woodward, killing 107 in the city of 5,500. Lives also were claimed in other communities that night.

Alexander, 3 years old at the time, was already in bed with her older sister and younger brother at Woodward when it hit. What she knows is what her family was told and in turn relayed to her.

A man found Alexander and took her to the hospital at Mooreland, about 10 miles east of Woodward. He said he heard a child crying and located her in a hole beneath a car.

Bare tree limbs rise eerily as the damaged Woodward County courthouse stands in the background after a tornado struck April 9, 1947. OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO
Bare tree limbs rise eerily as the damaged Woodward County courthouse stands in the background after a tornado struck April 9, 1947. OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO

In Lewis' case, the child was her son, Copper, age 6 when a tornado destroyed their house on May 24, 2011, southwest of Calumet.

Nine people were killed as the EF5 tornado traveled from near Hinton to Guthrie. Lewis' husband, Jesse, and Copper were safe in Elk City in western Oklahoma at the time the tornado struck. Lewis, who was pregnant with their daughter, was safe in a shelter at a friend's house four miles down the rural Canadian County road.

However, when Lewis returned, the house was a nightmarish heap. But her eyes kept returning to an oak tree across the road.

She crumbled.

The storm “had just taken my son's whole bedroom on the corner of the house and thrown it down there and shredded everything.”

She knew the tattered bedspread and twisted box springs in the tree had been on her son's bed. She connected what she saw in that tree with what could have been, and she lost it.

“When I saw those, I knew I could have lost him if we'd been there,” Lewis said. “Losing your things is hard, but it's no big deal. It's nothing compared to losing somebody you love.

Alexander and Lewis have never met but they share a deep respect for the power of severe weather in Oklahoma.

Alexander said her mother, Elnora Marts, instilled that in her children. After the tornado in April 1947, Marts watched storms closely. She would rush her children to the cellar.

“It's kind of like I watch the skies, but when there's a certain feeling in the air, I don't know what it is, but I know it's time to hit the cellar,” Alexander said, “I don't have to wait for them to report it on the TV.”

Lewis said there have been times since May 24, 2011, that it has been very difficult to get her fear under control.

“I know that the chances of this happening to us more than once are pretty slim, but the chance is still definitely there,” Lewis said. “I believe that the fear will get better over time though.”

Alexander's perspective

Pictured are  Elnora Marts (mother), standing on the left is Sabra Marts, standing on the right is Sue Marts (Sue Alexander), and the baby being held is Charlie Marts.  Photo was taken in Woodward, days before the Woodward tornado in April of 1947, near the intersection of US 412 and US 270 (9th & Oklahoma Avenue) in Woodward. I recognize the building in the background as the Woodward Municipal Building/Fire and Police Department. ORG XMIT: KOD
Pictured are Elnora Marts (mother), standing on the left is Sabra Marts, standing on the right is Sue Marts (Sue Alexander), and the baby being held is Charlie Marts. Photo was taken in Woodward, days before the Woodward tornado in April of 1947, near the intersection of US 412 and US 270 (9th & Oklahoma Avenue) in Woodward. I recognize the building in the background as the Woodward Municipal Building/Fire and Police Department. ORG XMIT: KOD

Alexander has two scars across the top of her knees and several on her back.

She knows that her eyes “were packed with mud and I couldn't see for a few days” after the tornado in early April 1947.

She and her siblings were scattered by the tornado.

When her mother began searching for the children, she first went to an area where the bodies of the deceased had been taken before she headed to the hospital.

“Mom found a little girl that looked like my sister wearing the same type of pajamas with pig tails, in the area among the deceased,” Alexander said. “When she found my sister at the Mooreland hospital, she was actually looking for me and for my brother. She heard someone yell ‘Mom!' and looked and they were shaving my sister's head to get the splinters out.”

Alexander and her siblings survived the tornado.

Today, Alexander lives near Fort Supply in far northwestern Oklahoma. She and husband Tony have a storm shelter at their home. The shelter is about 30 years old.

If weather is moving in, Alexander won't go to bed until it's out of the area, “because I'm watching all the time.”

That leads to a somewhat humorous memory.

One night, storms were moving in, and Alexander called her son who lived next door and said “Get to the cellar.”

The voice on the other end wasn't that of her son, but the person said, “Sue?” She said, “Yes.”

In her haste, she had accidentally dialed someone her son had gone to school with.

She told him she had meant to call her son and he said, “Is it that bad, Sue?” and she replied, “It's that bad.”

The two saw each other awhile later.

Alexander recalls, “He said, ‘Sue we were asleep, we had no idea. I appreciate your call.'”

She was warning the public, one call at a time.

Lewis' perspective

Miranda Lewis makes the best of a bad situation as she models a dress that was undamaged by the May 24, 2011, tornado that destroyed her family’s home west of El Reno. PHOTO BY Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman archives
Miranda Lewis makes the best of a bad situation as she models a dress that was undamaged by the May 24, 2011, tornado that destroyed her family’s home west of El Reno. PHOTO BY Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman archives

Miranda Lewis is shown with son, Copper, and daughter, Zuri, in Copper’s room at their home near Calumet. The Lewises’ former home was destroyed in a May 24, 2011, tornado.  Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman
Miranda Lewis is shown with son, Copper, and daughter, Zuri, in Copper’s room at their home near Calumet. The Lewises’ former home was destroyed in a May 24, 2011, tornado. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman

Before May 24, 2011, Lewis never gave much thought to tornadoes.

It just seemed like one of those things that didn't happen that often as far as losing a house, she said. They'd known several people whose homes had been damaged by tornadoes. But it was usually from a much smaller tornado.

So even that day in 2011, when someone told Lewis over the phone that her house had been damaged, she assumed they'd lost their roof or something.

Even though they lost possessions, she said they gained things such as a greater appreciation for every sunrise and sunset and the in-between.

“We have everything we need,” Lewis said. “We have the four of us and a lot of hope to move forward.”

They also gained experience.

Lewis wishes they had invested in a large hard drive, for photos, long before that day.

She wishes they had copied important documents and then stored the originals in a secure location.

“I wish we had kept a backup duffel bag during tornado season with just a few items in it, like a tooth brush and a change of clothes,” she said.

“And most of all, I wish we had done a video audit of our home contents. We should've videoed each room, inside the closets, inside the garage, inside the cabinets, etc.

“When it came time to list out our contents it was really difficult to remember every single item we owned.”

Lewis may have forgotten some things. And Alexander may have been too young to remember many things. But neither will forget their individual stories of the child and the bed and the respect for tornadoes that has developed.

Also in this series


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Two teachers' refusal to give tests puts their jobs at risk, but they say it's worth it
  2. 2
    Few Oklahoma exonerees receive payment for wrongful convictions
  3. 3
    Tiger Woods hires a new swing coach
  4. 4
    Man convicted of beating grandmother to death while high on PCP
  5. 5
    30,000 missing emails from IRS' Lerner recovered | WashingtonExaminer.com
+ show more