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One year after deadly tornado, Woodward residents still rebuilding their lives

On April 15, 2012, an EF3 tornado struck Woodward in northwest Oklahoma just past midnight, killing six residents, including three children, and damaging about 213 homes and businesses. About half were either majorly damaged or destroyed.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: April 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm •  Published: April 14, 2013

Matt Lehenbauer loved to chase storms.

Last April changed that.

Lehenbauer has seen a lot of tornadoes as the emergency management director for Woodward County and the city of Woodward.

But what happened April 15, 2012, was different.

“When it's people you personally know and you know they were injured or were killed and their homes were destroyed, it changes your outlook on life and on everything,” Lehenbauer said. “I've always taken my job seriously, but I take it 10 times more seriously, to the point it's paranoia and fear. I've never feared tornadoes ... but now it scares me.”

On April 15, 2012, an EF3 tornado struck Woodward just past midnight, killing six residents, including three children, and damaging about 213 homes and businesses. About half sustained major damage or were destroyed.

A year later, residents continue working to recover and to rebuild.

Jean Schwab soon will move into her new house, built on top of where her destroyed home once stood.

The night of the tornado, Schwab's adult children came to her house and woke her up. They rushed to the storm shelter in her backyard. A few minutes later, a tree flew through a bay window and into the bedroom where she had been sleeping.

“As they were shutting the lid on the cellar out back, you could see bricks beginning to fly,” she said. “It was that close.”

Schwab has spent the past year in transition. Filing insurance claims has forced her to try to remember what was once in each room of her home.

There were an incredible list of specific questions. How many towels did you have? How old were they? How much did they cost? Things a person doesn't think about until everything is gone.

Schwab's insurance policy wouldn't cover all the damage even though her home was destroyed. This was a surprise to her, but her company gave her an amount she was happy with. “I thought I had 100 percent replacement, but I think what we found out locally was a lot of people were underinsured,” she said.

Several people were uninsured and continue to pay mortgages on houses that no longer exist.

Most mortgage lenders require borrowers to purchase and maintain homeowner's insurance in order to protect the lender and the borrower from loss of the collateral, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department. However, it is a contractual requirement, not a legal one.

Schwab doesn't pretend the past year has been easy. She used to allow herself “pity parties,” setting a 15-minute timer and crying and screaming as much as she wanted for 15 minutes.

“But when it dinged, I was supposed to go do something else,” she said.

The tornado reminded Schwab how much she wanted to continue living.

“We had two sets of fathers and children killed, and like I said, that makes my loss minuscule,” she said. “We just do what we need to do. It is what it is.”

Storm shelter

Near the fence in the northwest corner, amid dirt, tufts of grass and bits of wood, a black-and-white sign reads “STORM SHELTER,” acknowledging the newly installed storm shelter sitting in the ground.

It might seem insignificant if you didn't know that, about 30 feet from that sign, three people lost their lives to a tornado.

Frank N. Hobbie II, 26, and his two daughters, Faith Dean, 7, and Kelly Marie, 4, were residents of the Hide-A-Way manufactured home park. They were asleep when the tornado struck the manufactured home park.

Their black stone graves are at Elmwood Cemetery in Woodward, decorated with flowers and mementos. A Tinkerbell wallet and a small figurine of Ariel from the “Little Mermaid” is near the girls' heart-shaped graves.

Another resident, Steve Peil, 63, died April 16 at an Amarillo, Texas, hospital after he and his wife were injured in their home at the mobile home park. He was a Vietnam War veteran who many knew as “Mickey Mouse.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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