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Oklahoma family lost nearly everything in 2011 tornado, but not each other

A Calumet, OK, family rebuilds after losing their home and possessions in a May 2011 tornado.
by Bryan Painter Published: June 11, 2012

— A plume of dark curly hair runs down the middle of 4-month old Zuri Lewis' little head.

She wiggles in her mother Miranda Lewis' left arm. The baby makes spit bubbles and curls her tiny toes.

Not 10 feet away, Zuri's 7-year-old brother, Copper, snaps the back tires onto a Lego truck, then rolls the toy on the hardwood coffee table. The toys are new and a sign of calmer days, much calmer than the one that swept his toys away last year.

Oklahomans experienced a calmer May this year in terms of tornadic activity. The preliminary count for the month stands at four tornadoes in Oklahoma, a significant decline from the 90 tornadoes in May 2010 and 46 last year.

The twisters in 2011 included a deadly EF5 on May 24. The Lewis family lives southwest of Calumet. They lost their house and possessions, but not each other.

On May 27 this year, the Lewis family moved into their new house. The location up on the hill is the same, but they view life much differently.

Miranda's husband, Jesse, and Copper, then age 6, were in Elk City at the time the tornado struck. Miranda and the baby she'd only known for five days were safe in a shelter at a friend's house about four miles down the rural Canadian County road.

When Miranda returned, the house was a nightmarish heap. But her eyes fixed on the tattered box springs spun around an oak tree across the road.

She crumbled. She knew these had been on her son's bed. She connected what she saw in that tree with what could have been, and she lost it.

“When I saw those, I knew I could have lost him if we'd been there,” she said. “Losing your things is hard, but it's no big deal. It's nothing compared to losing somebody you love.

“We have everything we need. We have the four of us and a lot of hope to move forward.”

Challenges followed

As friends, family and strangers dug through the destruction on May 25, 2011, Miranda commented, “The wind in Oklahoma is furious to say the least, and we experienced that on Tuesday, but I believe that whatever the wind blew in, it had goodness in it.”

She never doubted that was true.

There were tearful nights in Copper's temporary bedroom at a nearby rent house.

His Legos fire truck, battery operated trash truck and his toy Dodge pickup were gone. Those winds mom talked about, took them, and the 6-year-old didn't understand. He cried. She cried.

“For a kid, one year out of his life is a big chunk,” she said. “For the rest of us, it's just a fraction of life.

“It's really hard to press to him upon him that this is difficult, but we have everything we need.”

Miranda said she didn't question whether or not God was doing good things in their life. She still fully believed that. She cried with Copper because he needed her to grieve with him and because it's really hard to watch your children try to deal with something like this.

“It was hard to see him going through something so difficult and so hard to explain,” she said. “Crying was one of the best things we could do to sort of release the grief and the loss. And my son needed to know that I understood his grief and loss. ”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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