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Oklahoma tornadoes: Orr Family Farm begins rebuilding

The southwest Oklahoma City farm, which for the past decade has been a place of memory making for families, was in the direct path of Monday's monster tornado.
by Ed Godfrey Modified: May 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm •  Published: May 21, 2013

“We have put our hearts and souls into this place,” a weary Debbie Orr said Tuesday afternoon as she scanned the devastation at the Orr Family Farm.

The southwest Oklahoma City farm, which for the past decade has been a place of memory making for families, was in the direct path of Monday's monster tornado.

Making a trip to The Orr Family Farm is a fall tradition for many Oklahoma families. The farm offers attractions such as a petting zoo, animal barn, train and carousel rides and a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall. A mangled carousel, splintered beams and twisted metal now litter the farm.

“It's just amazing what Mother Nature can throw you at you,” said Tom Orr, 48, who owns and operates the farm along with his wife, Debbie, and his father, 81-year-old Glenn Orr, a retired veterinarian.

Adjacent to the Orr Family Farm is the Celestial Acres Training Center, also owned by the Orrs. It is a thoroughbred horse training facility where perhaps dozens of horses were killed by Monday's historic twister.

“We have 172 stalls that are gone,” Debbie Orr said.

An indoor arena also was blown away at Celestial Acres. It's believed between 80 and 100 horses were in stalls at Celestial Acres on Monday, Debbie Orr said.

Thirty-two horses that survived were being kept in a horse barn on the Orr Family Farm Tuesday, while others were transported animal hospitals to receive medical care. Many of the injuries were lacerations, she said.

“We've got horses here that come and go,” Debbie Orr said. “We rent the facilities to trainers. But unfortunately, many of the horses in the training facility didn't make it.

“We have an adjacent horse facility, and we've got other horses. Between all of them, it's really hard for me to estimate how many horses we lost. The animals that did survive are being taken care of.”

An employee tried to release as many horses as possible before the tornado struck Monday before the killer winds forced him to hide under a truck, Debbie Orr said.

Glenn Orr and his grandson, Brandon, along with other farm employees took shelter from the storm in the basement of his house on the property.

Tom and Debbie Orr, who live two miles away, were attending a funeral at the nearby Church of Latter-day Saints. They crammed into a bathroom when the tornado hit.

Minutes later, they raced to the family farm, fearing what they would find.

Everyone in the family and all of the farm's employees were unharmed. Even the animals that are part of the petting zoo — a pig, rabbits, ponies, goats and sheep — had somehow survived.

“Just really dirty,” Tom Orr said of those animals. “The black pig is now brown.”

The Orrs intend to rebuild the farm, which has been part of the family for 36 years. For the past 10 years, it has been a family attraction and the site of numerous weddings and birthday parties.

Tuesday, Tom and Debbie Orr were still trying to comprehend the unimaginable destruction to the farm they love.

“There were a lot of things that we built by hand that you just can't really replace, which is tough,” Debbie Orr said.

The Orrs' daughter, Shelby, 20, is home after finishing her sophomore year at Brigham Young University and had started on Tuesday what will be a long cleanup. She had ridden the carousel that now sits smashed hundreds of times as a kid.

“It's tough to see the place we've grown up around being completely gone,” she said.

The Orrs, however, consider themselves lucky. They know it could have been far worse.

“I was so relieved to be able to go home last night because a lot of people didn't have homes to go to, but we did,” a tearful Debbie Orr said.

“I am just thankful that we all were able to make it out without any injury and no loss of life. That is the most important thing to us right now, that we have each other. Things can be rebuilt.”

by Ed Godfrey
Copy Editor, Outdoors Editor, Rodeo, River Sports Reporter
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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