The recent tornadoes that have hit Oklahoma have caused a path of destruction and death for the citizens of those towns ravaged by the violent weather. Twenty-four people lost their lives, some of them children in Moore, Oklahoma. Another storm this past weekend was responsible for the death of another four individuals. For those that have survived, the memories of the devastating storms will remain with them for years to come. Steve Brown, a Johnson County native, and his family were living in Moore when much of the town was leveled by a deadly tornado.
Brown graduated from Johnson County High School in 1985. After working for several years in the area, he joined the Air Force. He spent the majority of his military and non-military career as an air traffic controller. The Air Force sent him to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Brown and his wife decided to settle down in Moore after being stationed in different locations while serving in the military. The town had become home.
Brown was at work when the tornado warnings were issued. Heeding the advice of his boss, he began to make his way home. As he got into his truck, hail the size of ping pongs began to fall, although it was not raining. It was big ice chunks falling out of the sky, Brown recalled. I rushed home as fast as I could. By the time he arrived home, his wife and son, along with the family dog, had made their way into their storm shelter located in the garage.
According to Brown, most people living in the area have some type of shelter because of the high incidence of damaging storms in the mid-West. The shelter fits inside a hole dug with a backhoe and set into the ground. A small compartment, it holds approximately six people. Browns shelter was equipped with water, a hammer, a first aid kit and flashlights. The unit is then locked down with chains for added security.
Inside the shelter, the Brown family waited out the storm. We could hear it, said Brown. It sounded like water rushing, like the ocean. Within a matter of minutes, the violent tornado hit. The family, inside the tight compartment, reported pressure in their ears, along with the taste of dust and the smell of gas from a nearby leak. As Brown tapped on the steel structure after the storm abated, neighbors arrived to their rescue.
Much of Moore was devastated and flattened by the strength of the storm that hit winds over 200 miles per hour. Brown found a car in his backyard that was not his. They discovered bowling balls from a bowling alley nearly one-mile away. A portion of the roof of his house landed on top of his truck. Our community was bad, so bad, Brown said. It flattened everything. The tornado went through his house and his neighbors. We have nothing left standing. Brown compared the destruction in Moore to the damage caused by a bomb. Its the worst Ive ever seen, he said. Over 1200 homes in the town were destroyed.
The first thing that Brown did after being dug out of his shelter was to begin to try and find family treasures; videos of his children, along with his safe and guns handed down through the generations. Despite the destruction of their home, Brown was able to recover over 80 percent of the family pictures. I could have lost everything, but I didnt, he said. I was lucky.
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