Oklahoma tornadoes: Calumet and El Reno area residents clean up storm debris

Small victories cheer Canadian County residents as they sift what's left of their home.
BY TRICIA PEMBERTON tpemberton@opubco.com Published: May 26, 2011

— Susan Sleeper and her three teenagers barely made it the mile down the road to the Maple Public School before the tornado swept through their neighborhood.

“As we got to the building, we heard the roar, just like a freight train,” she said.

She said she could see the tornado's cone, and once inside the school she could hear debris hitting the metal building.

“We could see the walls waving, just like someone was pushing them,” she said.

Sleeper said her husband, Charles Sr., was inside a Walmart in El Reno where employees wouldn't let him leave, fearful for his safety.

“He was just worried about getting to us to see if we were OK,” she said.

Wednesday morning, Sleeper and her family picked through the rubble of what once was their home. Her dogs, Spike and Princess, guarded the family car. Clothing and stuffed animals clung to tree branches across the road.

A puppy was killed by the storm, Sleeper said. A neighbor found it and called Sleeper and her husband over to bury it before the children saw it.

Ella Sleeper, 13, said she was sad about the puppy.

“I just want to close my eyes and go home,” she said.

That will be awhile.

Susan Sleeper said the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe will relocate her family, temporarily putting them in a hotel.

Ella Sleeper found two ceramic cats that survived the storm. The family's 13 live cats had yet to turn up.

Susan Sleeper said her house was brand-new when she moved into it six years ago.

“Now, it's gone in an instant,” she said.

Terry Floyd, community services director for the city of El Reno, said in addition to the six deaths confirmed in Canadian County, there were about 20 injuries reported from Tuesday's storm.

Floyd said he'd fielded more calls from people wanting to help or make donations than he had from property owners asking for help.

El Reno fire and police departments, along with first responders from Canadian County and surrounding areas, searched an 18- to 20-mile debris path Wednesday, Floyd said. He estimated there was damage to 30 to 45 homes in an area primarily west of El Reno, near the U.S. 270 and Interstate 40 intersection in Canadian County.

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