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Killer Storm Spared Midwest City Crowd

Oklahoman Published: May 4, 1999

Editor's Note: Jim Willis is a former staff writer. He was in Midwest City on Monday to be inducted into the Midwest City High School Wall of Fame and was one of 700 people evacuated to the field house. Willis is a journalism professor at the University of Memphis.

By Jim Willis

Two signal events provided the drama in Midwest City on Monday night. One was the evacuation of 700 parents, students and other honorees attending an awards ceremony at Midwest City High School.

The other was the tornado.

Left in its wake was a city without power but loaded with debris.

Midwest City had not suffered a serious tornado in the past half- century.

For the 500 at Midwest City High School, the school's jazz band was just finding its groove, old friends were embracing, and the fun was just beginning.

Principal Rick Bachman was at the lectern.

His calm voice belied his concern when he made the announcement.

"The band reminds us of the music on the Titanic, but we don't want to be like the Titanic, so let's quietly and orderly leave this building and walk over to the field house."

At table after table, smiles dissolved into quizzical looks. Bachman went on.

"We have just received word that a tornado has been spotted on the city's west side, so just to be safe, let's move on to the field house."

While some guests could not be deterred from their $8 dinners, most of the 700 did exactly as Bachman asked.

In the field house, some mingled in the hallways, others took seats. A few moments later, the court was lit, and a few hundred spilled out into it. Some students found a basketball and began shooting hoops.

"This is pretty eerie," one student said. "It's like we're in a bomb shelter waiting for the blast."

In a coach's office, many huddled around a television featuring a live account of the approaching tornado.

Tinker Field and Midwest City were in its sights.

"Oh my God," uttered John Solomon who had shown up to see a friend's daughter honored. The sentiment was repeated several times as you passed through the huddled masses.

"Fifty years and no real tornados; now this," another woman whispered to her husband.

Cecelia Powell, who came to see her brother inducted to the school's Wall of Fame, appeared in the locker room with a chunk of hail the size of a tennis ball.

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