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Oklahoma tornadoes: Heatherwood addition survivors begin to rise again

Oklahoma tornadoes: Heatherwood addition survivors begin to rise again
By Stephanie Kuzydym Skuzydym@opubco.com Modified: May 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm •  Published: May 21, 2013

— The sticks were broken, but not the spirit.

The hearts and strength was strong of the survivors in Heatherwood addition, a subdivision in Moore that sits a mile and a half east of Interstate 35, as they picked through the devastating rubble of what was once their home.

Monday's deadly tornado might have crushed cars and collapses houses, but it could not wipe out the names etched in concrete.

It could not erase the memories they made under the roofs that were now blown away. It could not keep them from rising again.

Mike Butler looked at the concrete slab below him and tried to figure out what room in the house he was standing upon.

He, his wife, Cate, and family friends dug through a pile of debris, their belongings exposed to open sky.

A football lay in the kitchen, but the oven and all the other major electrical appliances were not yet located.

Two of their small cars sat dented and damaged in the drive way. Their blue Ford Expedition was in the neighbor's front yard across the street, facing the opposite way it had been parked. The color of the houses and the decor on the inside was unrecognizable for what remained on S Fifth Street. Two streets south, houses stood untouched.

Mike Butler, who is in the Air Force and lived in his house in Moore for about 5½ years, was listening to the news on Monday when, about 3:15 p.m., he told his wife they should head to the storm shelter. They heard the train sound, then a woomp sound of what they'd later realize was their house collapsing, then their neighbors' voices calling out to see if they were safe.

They came out to a slab of concrete covered with wood and insulation.

In a month, Mike Butler will head to Korea.

Last Saturday, he and Cate eloped. They spent one night in their house as a married couple.

“Now we don't have to worry about whose stuff is going to go — her stuff or my stuff,” Mike said. “Now, we just don't have stuff.”

While searching through what remained, Mike found his military ID. There's nothing else Mike said he'd miss.

“I have my wife and our dogs survived,” he said. “The rest of it is just stuff. We can replace stuff.”

The good of good neighbors

Cherie Fleshman was debating whether to leave a house key under the mat for her neighbor. She knew bad weather was coming, and they had a storm shelter installed the year before, but was it safe to leave the key?

Then she remembered the Facebook video she watched of Jera Kiespert's kids playing with cone-shaped hats during their bath the night before. Kiespert was picking up her kids and Fleshman's daughter, Chloe, from day care on Monday. Fleshman wanted them all to be safe.

Fleshman left the key.

The Fleshmans and the Kiesperts are close neighbors. Their children play together and go to day care together and on Monday, they shared a storm cellar together, where they played “Go Fish” and drank tropical fruit-flavored Capri Suns.

“What saved my daughter and my neighbors' lives was putting in that storm shelter,” Tony Fleshman, Cherie's husband, said.

Survivors come big and small

Sarah Hock knelt on her closet floor inspecting her clothes.

Her bedroom window was shattered. Her pink vanity set was covered in insulation. The books on her wood bookshelf were caked with red dirt.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, she was deciding on what she wanted to save and what was not salvageable.

Luckily, just moments before, her older sister found her Christmas present from 2011.

Skippy the guinea pig was hiding under the shredded couch in the now open-air family room.

“A survivor,” someone in the family shouted.

Skippy shook as he was placed in a plastic container.

Be it boxes or the backs of pickups, plastic storage tubs or garbage bags, the families of the Heatherwood addition began to rise again, stick by stick, find by find, piece by piece.

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