BETHEL ACRES — Some signs of the May 10 tornado damage on the Dunsworth family's 55 acres are subtle. To start with, Howard Dunsworth didn't have to open the door on his tractor to visit this week because every window in the machine was blown out by the tornado. The dirt he was working Tuesday is a pad for a new barn, which will also contain living quarters. Then there are the not-so-subtle signs on their land in northern Pottawatomie County, nestled between Dale and Bethel Acres. Those include the mangled maroon Toyota 4Runner, a single north facing wall from what was an almost completed new home and a boxcar that was rolled and tossed about 600 feet northeast of where it started. A month ago today, at least 31 tornadoes stomped through Oklahoma, including two EF-4s, four EF-3s and three EF-2s, according to the National Weather Service. Tammy Rider, 29, of Newalla, was killed near Rock Creek Road and Harrah-Newalla Road and Wilbern Patterson, 55, of Oregon, was killed near SE 59th and Peebly Road in Oklahoma City. Joanne Kay Ross, 65, of Harrah died Friday from complications from injuries suffered during the May 10 tornado outbreak. A woman also suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to get to a shelter.
Starting over, againAs I leaned up against the tractor, Dunsworth said something in a subtle manner. "It got our house and two barns, one of them had living quarters in it,” he said of the May 10 tornado. "That's where our son was living and where we stayed after we lost our other home.” Howard and Jackie Dunsworth bought the place in 1995. A dozen years later on Valentine's Day, a stove accidentally left on during a trip to the store led to a fire that destroyed the house. They were settling into the new home which, including a wrap-around porch, had about 6,000 square feet. From that porch they could watch their Longhorn cattle or gaze down upon the almost park-like scenery among the pecan trees. Now, Howard's working the dirt for the site of a new barn in which they will live until they make new plans. "I told my wife, 'If ever you wanted to sell, do so now,'” he said. "I would put up a 'For Sale' sign and say 'As is.'” There's no indication she's ready to bid this area farewell. She would however, be more than happy to one day say that the first tornado she experienced was the last she had to endure.
Memories and divotsHaving learned from the tragedy of the fire, Jackie didn't want to lose what few family photos she had. So about 5 p.m. May 10, she loaded a tote box with pictures and carried it as well as three other boxes with important papers to the storm cellar. A little later, Jackie, some family members and her dog gathered in the back end of the 20-foot long shelter. One reason they went to the back end is that the cellar, at least since they've lived there, hasn't had a door on it. "I knew we had a tornado,” she said. "I'd never been in one but I looked up at one point. I kind of just peeked up because we were all huddled together and holding onto each other. I looked up and there was a wall of brown dirt and grass and it was whipping in there. And then everything shook, that's when the box car hit, but we didn't know that until afterwards.” Yes, the box car. After showing me where it had sat before the tornado, Jackie pointed to the divots caused by the box car and to the chunk of concrete missing from part of the storm cellar entrance. The divots continue a little after that and then no other marks, just the box car laying against a tree. This EF-3 tornado, about a half-mile wide, stayed on the ground for nine miles. It destroyed much, including several homes, according to the preliminary damage survey results of the National Weather Service. The box car is not all that the area around the pecan trees caught. There are pieces of neighbors' roofs, barrels that look like crushed pop cans and a shoe — none of which belonged to the Dunsworths. For three nights Howard and Jackie slept in a tent and their son stayed in their green Ford Taurus. Then some friends brought campers and later a travel trailer. For now, that's home and the Dunsworth family is thankful for their safety. "Everyone's OK,” Jackie said. "I don't know a fancy way of saying it, but I do know God never gives you more than you can handle.”