Military families are usually traveling families. We’ve been to a lot of places, and we’ve experienced catastrophic events in several locations. We’ve hunkered down through typhoons in the South Pacific and hurricanes on the East Coast. We’ve been taken by surprise more than once by earthquakes. One fearful storm struck close to home on May 20 when we were driving down a sunny highway in Texas.
Our far-flung life has planted our young-adult children in California and Texas, while our home base is in Virginia. Last month we traveled to the heart of Texas for our oldest son’s college graduation. After that celebration, my husband and youngest son flew directly to Virginia for work and school. I stayed in Texas a day longer — with my mom and my daughter — to help the graduate clear out of his apartment. That hard work done, the four of us hopped in the car and headed north.
Springtime weather across the Great Plains is notoriously volatile. Tornados had struck the previous week in Kansas and Oklahoma. More storms were predicted that day, so we’d been monitoring the weather reports.
“Watch the weather while you’re traveling,” my sister, Ashleigh, texted from her home south of Oklahoma City. My stepdad warned we might encounter rough weather in Wichita Falls. When we passed through the northern Texas town, though, we saw only a few raindrops on the windshield.
After that, the sky was clear above us. We were about to cross the Red River into Oklahoma and all was right with the world, when Ashleigh called from Oklahoma City with the news that a huge tornado was moving across her neighborhood near Moore, Okla.
Ashleigh and her husband were at work several miles away, but their two daughters, ages 3 years and 4 months, were at their day care center directly in the path of the storm. All Ashleigh could do was watch helplessly as TV news showed the storm grinding its way toward her babies. My mom talked on the phone with her while I drove homeward, looking at a placid blue sky and trying not to imagine the worst.
By the time we reached my mom’s home in Altus, Okla., the storm in Moore was over, but not the nightmare. We listened to newscasters describing the destruction 140 miles away.
“It’s hard to see how anyone above ground could have survived,” said one person. My nieces’ day care had a storm safe room, but it was above ground. My sister stayed in touch with us as she tried to get news by phone and her husband, Chris, tried to get there by car. Communication lines and the roads in Moore were in shambles. Chris drove as close as he could get and walked the rest of the way to find his little daughters.
It was another half hour before we got the call we’d been waiting for.
“They’re okay,” said my sister, her voice weak with relief. All I could choke out was, “Oh, I’m so glad.” The tears my mom and I had held back flowed freely then. Everyone at the day care center survived, though the building was heavily damaged, along with a large portion of the city of Moore.
“I don’t know if I still have a house,” my sister said, “but I don’t care right now.”
Later they found that they did, but some of their friends did not. They and other neighbors have been reaching out to help those who lost everything by sharing clothes, food and toys.
Familiar streets and buildings no longer recognizable provide a new empathy for those affected by disasters in other places.
“You always feel bad for people when you see things like this on TV, when people lose everything,” my sister told me a day or two later. “But this is my neighborhood. These are my friends who lost their homes. These are my girls.”
To find out how to help those affected by the storms, see the links below.
For what's happening at Tinker AFB:
For general disaster assistance: