NORMAN — Ninia Lay spent more than two hours Monday under a pile of rubble that used to be her home, struggling to breathe and praying she would survive.
By Tuesday afternoon, she had access to hot meals, dry clothing and a roof over her head — even if it wasn't her own roof.
Lay, 48, was one of about 160 people who had taken refuge by Tuesday afternoon at the University of Oklahoma after being displaced by the tornado that swept through Moore.
OU President David Boren announced Monday the university would open its dorms and campus apartments to anyone who needed a place to stay, along with meals and other services on campus.
Lay was at her home near Warren Theatre when the storm came. She wrapped herself in a heavy blanket and climbed into an interior closet.
After the house caved in, she could barely find room to breathe. But as she moved pieces of debris aside, she noticed an opening in the wreckage. She pushed herself toward it. Now she could breathe, but still couldn't pull herself to freedom.
Lay screamed for more than two hours, hoping someone would hear. Finally, she heard noise coming from above. So she kept screaming, louder this time. After searchers pulled her from the wreckage, she and her daughter, a first-grader who survived the destruction at Plaza Towers Elementary, were treated for cuts and bruises at Norman Regional Hospital.
Lay, her husband and her daughter plan to be at OU for a few days before going to stay with relatives while their insurance claim is processed.
Susan Sasso, associate vice president for student affairs, said the university expected to take in more than 200 disaster relief workers Tuesday evening, on top of the roughly 160 displaced residents who had taken shelter by Tuesday afternoon.
“Our range of residents is everything from a 6-month-old baby to a Saint Bernard,” Sasso said.
OU's spring semester wrapped up this month, meaning most on-campus housing was empty. The timing of the storm gave the university a unique opportunity to help, Sasso said — an opportunity it didn't have after the tornado on May 3, 1999, when classes were still in session and the dorms were full.
The university offered hot meals at Couch Restaurants and kept the cafeteria open all day to serve as a common area. Faculty and students from the music and drama departments volunteered to play music in the cafeteria, and staff members handed out dry clothes and other items such as umbrellas. Football coach Bob Stoops stopped by to sign autographs and have his photo taken.
The university set up a free store in Walker Center where residents could find dry clothes, toiletries and other donated items. The store is staffed by student volunteers, many of whom returned to Norman after the storm to help with relief efforts. The university will continue to collect donations, and those that aren't used will be donated to the Red Cross.
Moore resident Brandi Battocchio was looking for clothes for 10 family members displaced from their homes. She lives near Briarwood Elementary, which was destroyed, and rode out the tornado with five family members in a closet.
After the tornado leveled her home, Battocchio climbed out and helped pull survivors from the school, she said.
To register for OU's emergency housing, call 325-2511. To volunteer, go to leadandvolunteer.ou.edu.
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. read more ›