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Deadly tornados tore through several Oklahoma communities on May 19, 20 and 31, 2013. These are the stories of natural disaster and its aftermath, and of communities healing and recovering.

Oklahoma City Residents Recover After Severe Storms Sweep The Metro

Preliminary damage reports from Wednesday’s storms show multiple EF-2 tornadoes hit the metro area. The severe weather injured dozens of people and killed at least one. Residents across the state are trying to get back on their feet. 

Lucinda Armstrong puffs on a cigarette outside a Red Cross shelter at the Santa Maria Virgen Episcopal Church in south Oklahoma City. On Wednesday, she and four other people were staying in a room at the Best Value Inn on Southeast 44th Street and Interstate 35 when the tornado ripped the building apart.

“The roof starting caving in. We were on the top floor,” Armstrong said. “Someone was hollering, ‘Our roof just caved in.’ We managed to get out and go downstairs but everywhere we looked was debris.”

After the storm passed, a city bus took her and her family to the church. She can stay here for now, at least for a week while the shelter is open. But after that, her next step is uncertain.

“We don’t know. We don’t have anywhere to go.  Yeah,” she said.

Mario Medrano with the Red Cross says about 68 people stayed at the shelter Wednesday night. It’s the first disaster shelter in Oklahoma City that provides services in both English and Spanish.

“Here they can sleep, they can eat. They can bathe until we can get them a place to stay. And we’re anticipating that this is going to be open about a week,” Medrano said.

Wednesday’s severe weather event marked the first time a flash flood emergency was issued for the Oklahoma City metro. It’s more severe than the typical flash flood warning Oklahomans are used to hearing.

The metro got a lot of rain. Nearly 7 inches fell throughout the day, and the Will Rogers World Airport got more than 3 inches in a single hour.

The National Weather Service’s Rick Smith says the addition of the word emergency in the warning is designed to emphasize the severity of the situation.

“We just decided to pull out all the stops and do what we could to convey to people that this was not your average heavy rain event,” Smith said. “This had the potential to be something deadly and very serious.”

Smith says it rained so much that areas that aren’t flood prone were flooding Wednesday. Oklahoma City firefighters responded to 150 high-water assistance calls throughout the evening to rescue stranded drivers.

Smith says those high waters are likely to return. The ground is saturated and can’t absorb much more water. Any more rain, and it’ll probably flood all over again.

“We've gone from dry, cracked soil to like a sponge soaked in water soil, so that's Oklahoma and that's what happens. Droughts usually end in floods unfortunately,” he said.

“We're very concerned about this weekend, especially Saturday. Saturday has a potential to really be a dangerous storm day.”

And for some, like Darryl Lewis, the thought of yet another storm is just too much to bear. Lewis lives in the Roadrunner RV Park in southeast Oklahoma City that was destroyed by Wednesday’s storms.

“I mean, my trailer’s on its side right now, you know. They’re supposed to bring something, pull it over, and I’ll see if I can find my cat in there. That’s really all I care out,” Lewis said as he rummaged through his belongings to find his cat.

About 30 people took cover in the RV park’s storm shelter, while others tried to ride it out above ground. Of the 52 patients in Oklahoma City taken to the hospital in Wednesday’s storm, 13 were from Roadrunner.

For Darryl Lewis, this tornado means enough is enough.

“I’ve been here about five or six years ago. Time to go. There ain’t nothing you can do about it I guess,” Lewis said.

He was living at Roadrunner during the May 2013 storms as well.

“I lost 12 horses out there in Moore when that tornado come through. I had a horse stable out there. Just slashed them. These tornadoes are just killing me.”


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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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