NORMAN — EH Pittman isn’t looking forward to tornado season, his first since the May 20 Moore tornado that left him in a wheelchair and his broken shoulders blades still healing.
Pittman, an employee of the Moore 7-Eleven, climbed on top of his co-worker, a mother and her baby as they hunkered down in the restroom while an EF5 tornado tore the building into a pile of rubble.
Megan Futrell, 29, and her 4-month-old son, Case, died, something that still haunts Pittman, a 30-year-old husband and father of two.
Terri Long, 49, was the third person to die at the store, at SW 4 and Telephone Road, on her way home from work.
Almost a year later, Pittman and his wife, Jean, spend their days going to doctors’ appointments and physical therapy sessions. His back was broken, his lung had collapsed, both shoulder blades were fractured and he was covered with debris wounds. He had a huge hole that covered almost the entire width of his lower back and two cuts on his head took 12 staples to close.
It is the quiet times and dark storm clouds outside that makes the couple nervous. Their fears were eased a little this week.
The Pittmans were given an inground storm shelter after employees of Flatsafe Tornado Shelters in Yukon read about the National Guard sergeant’s story in The Oklahoman.
Flatsafe employees modified an inground storm shelter so EH Pittman can get in and out of the shelter hidden under his garage floor.
“It is a peace of mind,” EH Pittman said while his shelter was being installed. “Now, I know my wife and kids can be safe. They will be happy.
“It will definitely be a peace of mind.”
Poles were installed inside the 4-foot by 7-foot shelter designed to help EH Pittman lower and raise himself out of the storm shelter.
Once he is in the shelter, his wheelchair can be lowered inside with the family, said Lisa Ingram, Flatsafe sales manager.
“The family came to the showroom and looked around,” Ingram said. “They felt most comfortable in the below ground. We started to look at it and was able to modify it where there is some pull-up room for EH.”
The $4,600 shelter and the installation in the garage were donated. They were anxiously waiting the installation.
Jean Pittman wasn’t taking any chances. She already had a plan with her next-door neighbor to use their new shelter until the Pittmans’ was installed.
EH Pittman and his wife are happy there is a place for them and their two children, Logan and Izzabele, their dog, Tiny, and cat, Saphira, to go when deadly storms drop out of the Oklahoma skies over Norman.
Pittman admits it is a little difficult to lift himself up out of the shelter since both of his shoulders blades remain broken.
“Not a big deal,” he said. “I can do it.”
Pittman is waiting for a new track wheelchair that is being donated by the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The new chair will give him an opportunity to do some of the things he likes to do outdoors such as hunting and fishing.
“It will allow me to go where I want to go,” said Pittman, a sergeant in the 45th Infantry Brigade.
He was uninjured in combat during his 13-month deployment in Afghanistan.
The couple was working in the yard recently and Pittman got a slow leak in the left wheel of his chair, he said pushing on the black tire.
“Now, I have to air it a couple of times a day,” he said.
The May 20 tornado ripped through Moore and south Oklahoma City, killing 25 people and injuring hundreds others.
Recent threats of bad weather made the Pittmans and other Oklahomans uneasy.
Pittman tries to deal with tornado season and the first anniversary in his own way.
“I try not to think about it,” Pittman said. “I try to stay preoccupied. As it gets closer, that may change.
His co-worker, Bri Bellman, also took shelter from the deadly storm in the restroom with EH Pittman and others.
She is expecting a baby and has moved to Hawaii, he said.
Pittman’s goal is to walk again someday. Right now, he can stand in place, but cannot take a step. Will that change?
“I hope so — some day,” he said quietly.