Verses of Hope: Tornado victims reminisce about their terrifying storm ordeals

Stories of survival after a monster tornado savaged the Oklahoma City metro area.
Oklahoman Modified: May 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm •  Published: May 23, 2013

A race to live

Sarah Patteson was minutes away from losing.

She was in a race with an EF5 tornado that was rapidly destroying her hometown.

She beat it to Plaza Towers Elementary School, picking up her two sons before it could make it there.

“Had I been a minute or two later, our outcome may have been completely different,” Patteson said.

She sped home and threw a mattress over her sons, Lucas, 9, and Noah, 7, and their dogs.

“This is it, guys,” she said. “We've got to ride it out in the house.”

The family listened to a local television station through her cellphone. An Oklahoma City meteorologist was warning Moore families to seek shelter.

“‘Get out of its way, or get underground,'” Patteson remembers hearing. “‘If you're in a house or inside a structure, not underground, you're not going to make it.'”

That was the last thing she heard before her cellphone lost reception. As they sat cradled in the hallway of their home, Patteson threw herself over her children and their dogs and started praying.

“Dear God, watch over us. Keep us safe.”

It's hard to describe the eerie silence that fell over the house moments before the tornado came, she said.

It was silent, and then it wasn't. The freight train sound filled their ears as the tornado ripped their home apart.

Sunday, before the storms, the family had spent the afternoon outside. Sarah had cleaned out her flower bed, and her husband, Shayne, had trimmed one of the large trees in their front yard.

She got a new oil-rubbed bronze mailbox on a cedar post for Mother's Day. They had put bricks in a square around it, and she had filled it with potting soil and had planted orange gerbera daisies around it. She loves those.

“And then the very next day, they're gone,” she said. “It's heartbreaking, but at the same time, we're going to be OK.”

Jaclyn Cosgrove, Staff Writer

‘A verse of hope'

Jeff Kerr has been asked countless times why “Job 1:21” is painted on one of the few remaining walls of his destroyed home.

Over the past few days, Kerr has thought a lot about the story of Job, a story in the Bible about a man who underwent immense suffering but held true to his faith in God.

“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised,” Job 1:21.

For Kerr, it's simple to summarize why the verse sits there in large red letters.

“Because it's a verse of hope,” Kerr said.

Jaclyn Cosgrove, Staff Writer

‘It's just gone'

This was the house where everything happened.

Javier Sanchez remembers being 12 and standing out front, playing catch with his siblings.

He threw a baseball through the window of the neighbor's house across the street.

“It definitely came out of my allowance,” he said.

The house was like a headquarters — Christmas, birthdays, family dinners. They all happened here.

Every Sunday afternoon, Sanchez, 27, and his family gathered in their home on Kings Manor in Moore to have their weekly family dinner.

This past Sunday, they were watching home videos. There was Sanchez as a kid, playing in the backyard, enjoying Christmas with his family, the siblings as children, just being kids.

“It's kind of weird we were watching these home videos, reminiscing about how we lived here so long, and it's just gone,” Sanchez said.

Jaclyn Cosgrove, Staff Writer

‘A safe place'

The lingering smell of a skunk that had died in her storm shelter nearly kept Malinda Cheshier from seeking safety there from Monday's deadly tornado.

Cheshier knew the storm was coming but she thought she would just stay in her home of 33 years rather than go down into the smelly cellar. A neighbor convinced her otherwise.

The cellar probably saved her, two neighbors and two dogs.

Her house on SW 6 near Telephone Road was in a neighborhood that was flattened by the tornado.

“I don't think it smells like a skunk anymore,” said Cheshier, who styles hair at a shop in Norman. “It smells like a safe place.”

She and her neighbors had to wait for help to get out of the cellar because the tornado had dumped heavy pieces of roof on the cellar door.

Chris Schutz, for The Oklahoman

‘It broke my heart'

Pictures have always been Amy Pierce's “thing,” she said.

The 30-year-old Norman resident studied photography at Oklahoma City Community College and then opened a small photography studio in Moore at 201 N Broadway, Suite 104.

Studio Innovations specializes in producing professional wedding, baby, family and graduation pictures.

“I just love the people here, this seemed like a great place to start,” Pierce said of her business' location.

On Monday, she traveled to her home in Norman to avoid the deadly tornado she feared would sweep through the neighborhood. She hoped her studio would be there when she returned.

“I was so happy,” she said recalling the moment when she saw her studio still intact and undamaged.

The first thing she noticed was an old wedding picture on the ground amid debris.

“It looks like it's from the 50s,” she said. “It broke my heart knowing that there probably isn't another one out there.”

Pierce said she called friends and family to help her scavenge the neighborhood for pictures that had been disarranged by the tornado.

With hundreds of photos found, Pierce sought help in locating owners by contacting the National Disaster Photo Rescue organization.

Organization director Thad Beeler set up a Facebook page to help survivors of Monday's tornadoes connect with Pierce and locate lost photos.

To drop off a photo or to locate a lost one, go to www.facebook.com/LostPhotosOfMooreOK or Studio Innovations' website at www.studioinnovationsphotography.com.

Nasreen Iqbal, Staff Writer

‘I would have stayed until daylight if I had to'

After hearing there were children missing in the aftermath of Monday's tornado, Sherri Crawford explained to her kids why she was leaving their Edmond home to go to Moore.

“I told them if they were missing, I would want someone to do everything they can do to help,” she said.

The former emergency room nurse arrived in Moore around 6:30 p.m. Monday and was directed to a triage center near the Warren Theatre.

People there told her they had already treated more than 30 victims and had seen one fatality.

Crawford helped treat six more, including a woman who was dazed and in shock.

When asked where she lived, the woman pointed to a pile of rubble that didn't look like a house anymore.

Crawford was in the area helping victims until 2 a.m., when she was no longer needed.

“I would have stayed until daylight if I had to,” she said.

Jonathan Sutton, Staff Writer


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