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Oklahoma tornadoes: Thousands sought refuge in public buildings

Tempers flared at some city-designated shelters in central Oklahoma, while more than 5,000 Edmond residents rode out Tuesday's storm in schools across the city.
BY PAUL MONIES Published: May 26, 2011

City officials let some seek refuge at the police station. Another 2,200 people were at the Reed Center, Clabes said.

During the storm, a 20-year-old woman with a child got through a locked door at City Hall by kicking out the glass. Clabes said he doesn't expect charges to be filed against the woman, Brittany Rose Francks, but the city wants restitution for the estimated $300 in damages.

Francks, who was cited by police, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In Del City, one family said it was initially turned away from Del Crest Middle School. The school is not a public shelter, but some employees were in the building. Mid-Del Schools started summer break May 18.

Tara Cameron, 29, sought refuge inside the school with her husband, Dale, and six children, ages 2 to 12. The Camerons live across the street from the school, which is attended by their oldest child.

“We already had our house prepared on the inside and we were going to go into the inside closets,” Tara Cameron said. “But when we heard about the (tornado) in El Reno possibly coming this way, we didn't think our house would survive that.”

The family was initially turned away by employees. Later, the Camerons were let in, but didn't feel welcome, Tara Cameron said.

“If you have the keys to a safe place and obviously are going to take your family in there, why would you deny all the neighborhood kids that go to that school access if you're in there?” she said. “When it's life or death, who cares about the policies?”

Stacey Boyer, director of community relations for Mid-Del School District, said the district does not have any public emergency shelters.

“Employees of Mid-Del Schools did use a facility for shelter during the weather outbreak on May 24,” Boyer said in a statement. “Members of the community approached a school site and were granted entrance for shelter. While the school was not designated as a storm shelter, no one was turned away.”

Oklahoma City schools not available

Kathleen Kennedy, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said the district's 78 schools are not available as shelters for the public during emergencies.

“We're not manned during the evening hours and there's not enough manpower to do it,” Kennedy said.

Most school employees commute to work and it's not as likely staff will be around to open a school when storms hit, she said. If a storm hits during regular school hours, the facilities “lock down to secure everyone in the building.”

“It's a protection thing. You've got kids there that we're in charge of their safety,” Kennedy said.

“It's not meant to keep people out in inclement weather, but it's a safety feature.”


Staff Writers Ann Kelley,

Diana Baldwin and

Megan Rolland

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