NEWCASTLE — Janet Cope sat inside her car in the pouring rain Tuesday, parked in front of the rubble that used to be her house, and watched for signs of life. She hoped to see her Siamese cats — Loki and Rio — come crawling out from beneath the debris.
“Do you think they could still be alive?” she asked. “I'm afraid they're underneath all that, but maybe they got out. Maybe they'll come back. I'm hoping.”
Cope's husband, Richard, combed through the rubble of the house in the Country Club Estates Addition, just north of State Highway 37, helped by a neighbor whose house was mangled but still standing. Sharon Bearden said she rode out the storm by hiding in an interior closet.
The Copes' house was one of 14 leveled in their addition. In the neighboring Cedar Creek Addition, also north of SH 37, another 20 or so homes were destroyed. The houses were fodder for a tornado that cut across both additions, grew and expanded, then traveled east along the Canadian River before plowing into Moore.
Richard Cope said he was en route home when the tornado struck.
“I had left home about 11 a.m. to go for lunch and to check on a job. I was on my way back and about two miles south of the house when it hit. I could see it in the distance,” he said.
“It was a stovepipe. It went from a stovepipe to a giant wedge, and that's the tornado that hit Moore.”
Cope shot photos of the narrow funnel that leveled his and other homes in the Country Club and Cedar Creek neighborhoods, and then photographed the expanding wedge tornado as it moved on past, traveling like a devouring monster toward Moore.
Ian Crittendon, Newcastle's assistant emergency manager, said the tornado did “an astounding amount of damage to a limited area.” One man was taken to a hospital with a leg injury, and some residents reported minor injuries, he said, “but that's all. That's pretty amazing. In the big picture, we got very, very lucky.”
The rest of Newcastle suffered little or no damage, he said. The Interstate 44 bridge was closed for several hours because spans from an old trestle bridge next to it came loose and blew onto it. The debris was cleared and the bridge reopened by Tuesday.
All the houses destroyed or damaged were worth from $250,000 to $400,000 or more, Crittendon said.
“They were beautiful neighborhoods. These were dream homes for most,” he said.
Tuesday, heedless of rain, people picked through the rubble looking for anything they could salvage, searching mostly for pictures and small possessions, as most of the large furniture was in ruins.
Carpets, curtains, rugs and towels hung in tree branches. Pieces of sheet metal were wrapped around the trunks. An American flag was draped across the mangled wall of one home.
In the collapsed houses, pieces of color stood out from the wreckage: children's toys, clothes, the twisted wheels of bicycles.
Richard Cope said he and his wife moved there in December from Duncan to be close to their children, who live in Newcastle.
“I don't know what we'll do now,” Janet Cope said. "I don't know if I want to stay here or not after this.”
While their house was being built, she said, she and her husband had lived at the Newcastle Hotel. Monday, when she realized they no longer had a home, she telephoned the hotel manager.
“I asked him if he had any room for us, and he said, ‘Well, you can have your old room back,'” she said.
The Copes say they've lost all their possessions, salvaging mainly a stack of soggy photographs and a few knickknacks.
“I don't care so much for us,” Janet Cope said, “not when I think about those kids in Moore that died. What happened to us is nothing in comparison to what's happened to those people. And I don't mind so much losing our house. It's my cats I miss. I'm still hoping they're out there somewhere alive.”
Writer Sarah Lobban