MOORE — The owner of a company that charges thousands of dollars to take people on storm-chasing tours apologized Tuesday for bringing one of his vans into the damage path of the May 20 storm and said he takes special care to keep tourists away from tornado-damaged areas.
Dave Holder is co-owner of Extreme Tornado Tours, which charges as much as $3,500 a person for storm-chasing trips across Tornado Alley. Holder said he has received complaints from those who saw one of his vans in Moore right after the May 20 EF5 tornado that leveled several neighborhoods.
Holder said there were no tourists in the van, which is wrapped in a graphic sporting the company's logo. An ABC News crew was doing a story on the company and needed to get to the area quickly after the storm.
“I'm not happy with the fact that we took that van in there,” Holder said. “It really bothers me that people would think we are out there sightseeing and viewing damaged areas and trying to make money off of the destruction of lives and property.”
Karey Link was one of the people offended when she saw the van in her neighborhood at SW 21 and Robinson. She said she was sitting on her curb waiting for her husband to get home and trying to find out whether her son, a fifth-grader at Briarwood Elementary, was OK when she saw the tour van.
“I thought, ‘How dare you make money off this,'” Link said through tears Tuesday.
“How dare they exploit something so personal and so raw. I didn't know if my son was alive or not. I was just so angry.”
Link said Holder owes her and her neighbors an apology. He agreed.
“I really would like to apologize to everyone who had to see that van there,” Holder said.
“That is the last thing you want to see when your home has been demolished. We would never intentionally drive into an area where a tornado hit.”
Holder said the people who take his tours aren't paying to gawk at damage. They are hoping to catch a glimpse of a tornado in a rural area where lives aren't in danger.
Tour participant's story
Candice Hon, of Clarksville, Tenn., took an Extreme Tornado Tour in 2012.
She said she was terrified but fascinated by tornadoes her entire life, but especially after one damaged her hometown in 1999.
Hon and her husband decided to take a storm-chasing tour for their 10th anniversary.
“I really wanted to face my fear,” Hon said. “It was the best experience of my life up to that point.”
Hon said she's been to Europe and Asia and has never enjoyed a trip like she did the storm-chasing tour. Much of the trip was spent passing time waiting for storms or on long drives to get into position to intercept a possible storm.
She said the tour guides were professional and always kept them at safe distances from storms. Hon saw three tornadoes during her tour. Only the last one was visible for any length of time.
“It was glorious,” Hon said. “It's hard to explain.”
Hon said none of the storms her group chased were near cities, and she wouldn't have been comfortable knowing the tornadoes she was watching could be killing people or destroying homes.
“Every place we went on our tour was in the middle of nowhere. It was pasture land,” she said.
Hon called her fascination with tornadoes a “morbid curiosity.”
‘More good than harm'?
That curiosity is what makes companies like Extreme Tornado Tours possible.
Holder said his company does what it can to help during and after storms. When they are chasing in rural areas, they spot storms for the National Weather Service.
Ultimately, Holder said the idea of his company is to offer a safe way for people to feed their curiosity about tornadoes.
“There are going to be people who want to go chase who are going to put themselves out there,” Holder said.
“You might as well create an industry that creates a fairly safe environment that people can do it in.”
The company is 6 years old, and there are others like it. Holder said he has only recently gotten complaints about the concept.
He lives in Norman, a few miles from where the May 20 tornado hit in Moore, and understands that emotions are high.
“I'm not a coldhearted person who is just trying to turn a profit from tornadoes,” Holder said.
“I'm not going to deny the fact that it is a delicate subject. I really feel like, when it is all boiled down, we are doing more good than harm.”