May 20th, 2013-- My StoryWe knew going to school that it was going to be a bad weather day. Many times they can predict when the weather is going to be "extra bad" due to the meteorological events in the area. There are things terms that arise such as a dry line, storm cap, strong jet stream etc that we know mean bad things. Believe me in Oklahoma-we know our weather terms. Shawnee, OK was just hit the day before with a devastating tornado. A trailer park was demolished and many semi's were blown over on the interstate overpass and had 1-40 closed for a little while. Of course the weather was the talk of the town that morning among teachers, students and parents. The were expecting the worst of the storm cells to be generating between 2 and 5 pm. My friends Christy and Wendi are both speech pathologists in my school and we were discussing the plan of the day. We had an end of the year ice cream party that day for our ID classroom and Wendi had a 3D ultrasound to see her baby that is due in July. Christy (our weather maniac) already had a plan to take Wendi with her to her mother in law's shelter after school if the weather got bad because she's pregnant. I remember joking with her saying "Does that mean you are just going to leave me in the street??". We all had a good laugh. We did our ice cream party and when we returned the kids we all noticed that it was HOT and HUMID outside. It is rarely THAT humid in Oklahoma. Christy lived here during May 3rd (when Moore got hit in 1999) and she stated the weather felt oddly familiar. Wendi had to leave for her ultrasound and Christy and I returned to the classroom and turned on Channel 4 on our school computers. Around 1:30 a little blurb popped up on the radar near Lawton, OK. It was moving our way but it was small and green so we didn't think much of it. At first we were joking about it and we had the Channel 4 up on the SmartBoard and we were making dots where our houses, schools etc were on the Smart Board and "playing meteorologist" trying to keep ourselves in a calm mood despite the possibility of worsening weather moving towards our area. We both live near each other about 20 minutes away from our school district. Well the radar of course updated itself every 5 minutes or so and that "green blurb" got bigger and bigger and bigger. More colors started to appear within the radar detected storm. We didn't like to see red, purple and black-that means hail and large hail. The weatherman Mike Morgan was now on livestream and giving us live updates. We were glued to our smartboard. About 2:00 or so our prinicipal came over the intercom and said "Turn off all videos, stop all games and listen-there are a lot of parents here to check out their children". Then the list of students named over the intercom was nothing like I have ever heard before. Our principal just kept going and going and going. The large storm cells were moving right towards our area at this point-where we live in Newcastle and where our school is located in Moore. THAT is when we started to truly get concerned. We obviously didn't have any kids in our classroom so we went down to the office and started helping the office staff check out students. It was chaotic. The storm was moving closer and it was raining and hailing outside. We have an outdoor school that is set up in pods so when it rains and hails- it is difficult to dodge sometimes. I am not sure of the time as I didn't pay attention for the rest of the day. The school principal stated "no more kids will be checked out- we are under tornado warning". Christy and I run back to our speech classroom and start listening to the weather again on our smart board. A tornado warning comes out when there is any kind of rotation headed towards us-it doesn't necessarily mean that there is a tornado on the ground. So we are listening to the weatherman, Mike Morgan, and he says we have a tornado warning for Bridge Creek, OK and Newcastle, OK. (well thats where WE LIVE). So our hearts just race. Mike Morgan confirmed a tornado on the ground in Newcastle, OK and my husband texts me that my house is ok-but there is a tornado on the ground and headed towards Moore. In my small town, there are no tornado sirens, the volunteer fire dept is the sirens. They drive around the area yelling over the loud speaker to get in your shelters or get to your 'safe area' so my husband usually is pretty well informed about tornadic activity. I was worried at that point when he said the tornado was headed towards Moore. We are watching the tornado on the smart boart and Christy and I both recognize landmarks as the tornado passes through the area where we live and the streets that we drive to get to work everyday. The teachers next door are hunkered down with their students. Christy and I decide that if it truly is going to hit our school-it would be best if we went down the street to her mother in laws house then come back to the school and help dig out people if needed. That was our plan. We wait until the very last minute. We hear the streets that the tornado is demolishing over the weather radio and we cringe knowing where our school district schools are. The tornado is headed right towards my elementary school. We are praying and praying hard. we see it coming towards us as we get down in the shelter and we HEAR and FEEL it coming towards us. It is loud like a freight train and the ground is shaking. It is nothing like I have experienced before. I am trying to text my husband to let him know I am underground as the weatherman kept saying "you need to be underground to survive this tornado". All of a sudden we don't hear the rumble as strong so we know it took a different path. The ground was still shaking though. The rumble got softer and softer so we peaked out of the storm shelter and saw it again. It was over a mile wide. It was HUGE. We were teary and scared knowing we have friends that live where the tornado is passing. We start to head back to the elementary school and we see this funnel start to drop over our heads. The cars on the road obviously saw it too as they reverse with a high speed and screatch their tires as they head the other direction. Christy and I quickly go back to the storm shelter out of fear. We don't hear anything about it on the radio so we come back out go back to the school and see how we can help. There were only a handful of kids left. we went back to her mother in laws house and we start watching TV. BAD idea- that just made us worry worse. We see the devastation for the first time. Housing additions where our friends live, schools where our friends work and the area that we hang out in (restaurants, movie theaters etc) just wiped from the face of the earth. Just lumber, bricks, cars scattered everywhere. I am getting texts from my family that say "please answer ames, please answer" "we need to knnow you are ok, please text back-please God text back". I TRY and TRY to get texts/phone calls out to my family and my husband. Finally I get one out to my husband that I am OK and he lets everyone know via phone calls and Facebook. Facebook was a good communication system as the cell phone coverage was poor. I decide to try to get out of Moore and go home. My husband advises me the best route as traffic is unbelievable. I-44 and 1-35 are both closed due to damage. It takes me 2 hours to get home even through the back way to my area. I then just start texting and trying to get a hold of everyone I know in that area. I hear back that an SLP is among the unaccounted for. We continue to pray. We hear a death toll of 51 and later 91 and it was scary. Later we find out that the death toll was 24-they were having communication issues and double reporting. So anyways that is the story of that day. It was a scary day. My husband called me and told me he was being deployed with his fire dept to go help rescue people. So I was alone, shaken up and watching the horrible things on TV of the city and schools that I love. We finally find out that all SLP's are accounted for. I am relieved, but still sad for the schools, parents, city, friends, everyone! I made myself something to eat at 11:30 and went to bed. My parents told me on the phone I should eat something even though I wasn't hungry. My husband got home at 4am from helping. We spoke the next morning about the tragedy that he saw first hand. It broke my heart.
For those that want to see a video of a tornado and what we listen to on the radio from the storm chasers- here is an excellent video. It captures the first 10 minutes of the 16 minutes that the tornado was on the ground in Newcastle and Moore, OK. We sometimes go to the Braums (it's an ice cream place like Dairy Queen) and I drive past the Walmart/McDonalds/Braums every single day.
So that is my story of that day-I tried to record most of it the day of so it was fresh in my mind. That tornado did not beat us that day though- we rose back together ... it is captured well in this article.
Here is another fun video that provides some insight into the optimism that Oklahoma continues to show:
People have asked for ways to help and here are some that we have generated. I am in charge of rounding up donations for the school district to support the speech pathologists and I am honored to do so.
1) donate monetarily to firstname.lastname@example.org on paypal-this will go to Moore SLP's that need funds either for their basic needs or therapy materials for school next year.
2) send therapy items-- you can email me at email@example.com to get an address
-there were 4 SLP's affected. Their caseload is pre-K through grade 5. Another SLP in our district lost her entire house-so she is in need of help too. We have 5 total- 4 that their school was affected, 1 that her house was affected.
3) Donate via future donorschoose.org projects for moore teachers and there is also a teacher fundraiser at that site.
4) There was a need I was just made aware of that a daycare teacher lost everything and likely will not be included in donated money to the public schools since she is not in our district as a daycare provider. You can contact me on how to help her with classroom materials at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a first year teacher and we all have been there. She teachers pre-K and kindergarten.
5) By purchasing items in my TPT store, I will be donating all of my earnings to a teacher friend at my junior high who lost everything, the daycare teacher and the Moore SLPs fund.
I will update this blog post as I can for future needs that I have become aware of. Thank you all for reading my story and for the thoughts, prayers, kind words, emails, donations, EVERYTHING. I am very grateful and my school district is very grateful. I will also do more blog posts for how you can support others ways of raising funds for our district.
A special shout out to Linguisystems, Super Duper Inc and WPS (the company that makes tests like the OWLS, Arizona etc). They have offered to replace items and donate therapy items and tests. We are so blessed by these companies in our profession. So a shout out THANK YOU to them. Another special thank you goes out to donorschoose.org-they contacted me right away to let us know that funds were being raised by teachers around the nation for our Moore Public Schools teachers.
Also I just got an amazing e-mail for my speech blogger friends about plans to help out our SLP's. You all have been AMAZING with your donations, time and everything towards myself and my school district. I read each and every e-mail and I am printing them out to share at our next speech meeting-which will likely be next year.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
Amy @ Major Speech