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Joplin tornado survivors start new life in Moore

Survivors of the 2011 Joplin tornado, the Carmona family, have made their home in Moore.
by Carla Hinton Modified: May 19, 2014 at 7:11 pm •  Published: May 20, 2014

— Why would someone move from one storm-ravaged city along Tornado Alley to another?

Because love lives here.

Kari Carmona, 33, said she moved her family of four daughters from Joplin, Mo., to this suburban city in the south metro area because they have been embraced by many members of the community, particularly those families experiencing life situations the Carmonas understand all too well.

“It’s the people here,” the widow said of what compelled her to put down roots in Moore. “You’ve got tornadoes, but you’ve got awesome people.”

Kayla Carmona, Kari’s oldest daughter, put it succinctly: “We like it because of the love that they have toward each other here — everybody’s got each others’ back.”

The Carmonas said the May 20, 2013, storm in Moore brought the city to their attention.

“We were all bawling. We felt horrible especially when we heard about the seven children who passed away at the school. It hit close to home,” Kari Carmona said.

The mother and daughter said they saw something familiar in the faces that looked back at them from newspaper photos and the television screen: pain, grief, devastation, suffering.

They didn’t have a problem imagining the unimaginable because they had lived it.

Kari’s husband and Kayla’s dad, Moises Carmona, along with the youngest Carmona daughter, Arriyinnah, 8, died in the powerful tornado that wove a deadly path of destruction through Joplin on May 22, 2011.

They said the family was attending Sunday evening services at Joplin Full Gospel Church when the twister hit. Kayla said she watched as her father held up a beam that kept the damaged church structure from falling so that people could escape the building. In the new documentary “Where Was God: Stories of Hope After the Storm,” she tells the powerful story of how she watched her dad save the lives of others before he died.

The Carmonas said they learned that little Arriyinnah, who was often called Arriy, died instantly as the storm hit the church.

So the Carmonas said they knew what the Oklahomans who lost loved ones in the EF5 tornado were feeling as they tried to make some sense of the tragic events that unfolded that May day in the Moore area.

Kari Carmona said they knew they wanted to help the storm survivors in any way they could. She said they traveled to Moore with an organization called Hope Station, which was created in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado.

The Carmonas, which include Adriennah, 11, Savana, 12, and Mari, 13, said they were among the volunteers who manned a Hope Station tent that was set up near the Plaza Towers Elementary site. They prayed for storm survivors who came to the tent and shared their own faith testimonies with them.

Kari Carmona said their first sight of the devastation in Moore was “overwhelming” and brought back painful memories. But she said as she began to speak to storm survivors she felt her heart lift a bit.

She said Scott McCabe was one of the first people she met as she peered at the Plaza Towers Elementary fence. She said after hearing her story of love and loss, McCabe, whose son Nicholas, 8, died at Plaza Towers, asked her if the pain of losing someone would ever go away.

“It was totally a God moment,” she said. “I told him it does hurt but God wraps His arms around us.”

Kari Carmona, who worked at a school cafeteria, traveled between Joplin and Moore several times throughout the next two months. Kayla stayed in Moore the entire summer.

The teen began talking to young storm survivors like herself, sharing her faith and letting them know how she continues to deal with the loss of her father and sister. She said she shared some Scriptures that have helped her after the deaths of her family members to remain positive about life and the future. Kayla Carmona also showed drawings of the twister that she created as a way to deal with the traumatic experience.

“I shared my story and talked about how it’s not really the end, it’s a beginning,” she said. “I said that Jesus is here and He’s going to be here” no matter what storms may come.

Kari Carmona said over the summer several of the family’s newfound friends in Moore began joking with them about coming to live in Oklahoma. She said Scott McCabe and his wife, Stacey, whom the Carmonas now consider close friends, were among those who said the family should seriously consider the move.

Kari Carmona said her visits to Moore felt like a way to give back.

“When you’re going through your darkest time, it really does help to help others. You don’t even realize sometimes that you’re getting healed through helping someone else,” she said.

The family’s visits to the metro stopped when summer ended. But in October 2013, following what she called a prompting from the Lord, the widow moved her family to Moore for good.

The Carmonas, who now worship at Abundant Life Assembly in Moore, said they feel like they have found their home.

They live in the Plaza Towers neighborhood just down the street from their friends, the McCabes.

Kari Carmona said she was “weary of Tornado Alley” but she realized that storms are not something she can control.

“I’m just totally depending on God. Tragedy can happen anywhere. I can’t let that fear overcome me.”

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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