With two autistic children ages 3 and 5, Abby's life revolves around her family's routine. Between therapies, school and gymnastics, she manages more than 30 appointments a week. She says, "Routine is everything to autistic kids. It reduces their anxiety."
On a warm day in late May 2013, she watched as the routine she had carefully constructed was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma and neighboring Oklahoma City. Although forecasts that day called for severe weather, Abby and her husband wanted to take advantage of a rare day off and went to a movie. She says, “We thought, we are going to a movie, it is two hours, [it’s] not even raining outside, if something is going to get bad then it will get bad later tonight.”
About halfway through the movie, Abby got a call from the daycare center across the street where her children were playing — a tornado was coming and they were evacuating the children to better shelter. Abby and her husband rushed out of the theater grabbed their kids and drove home — directly into the storm. Abby says, “Because I had never seen a tornado, it never occurred to me that this big massive thing with no definitive boundaries was a tornado.”
They managed to get into their underground shelter just a minute before the storm hit. When they emerged, their house was damaged, but still standing; however, the contents of their kitchen and living room were strewn about the yard including clothes, food, and medicine. They were without power and running water. The shock and the disruption to their daily routine, was profoundly traumatizing to both her children, causing significant regressions. Even today, she is continuing to build back what was lost – but she remains optimistic, “You try to come up with a new okay and a new great and go from there.”
Gayland Kitch was in the City of Moore Emergency Operations Center on May 20 when, for the second time in his 30-year career, an EF-5 tornado would devour his city. For days prior, the National Weather Service was tracking the development of severe weather conditions across the region. In fact, just the night before, a tornado struck the nearby town of Shawnee, and Gayland was up for much of the night, bringing equipment to his hard hit counterparts in the town just east of Moore. On the morning of May 20, he says, “We actually knew looking at the weather conditions that morning…that once thunderstorms developed they were going to be very explosive. Our local television stations, and our local emergency managers, we were all saying this is a day to pay attention to the weather.”
By 2:40 that afternoon, the first tornado warning was issued and a monstrous EF-5 tornado was bearing down on Moore. Gayland describes the storm, “As it approached our city, [the tornado] had a damage path that was probably a half-mile to three quarters of a mile wide. And within that half mile, it was total destruction. There was very little left.”
The average lead time for a tornado warning is about 12 to 13 minutes, which as Gayland says, “That’s not very long to receive that warning, decide that the warning is actually for you, determine what to do and then actually take action. What I try and tell people in my community, if you hear my sirens going off you need to be doing something right now. You need to be taking shelter now.”
Do you have a plan that includes where to take shelter in case of a tornado? Watch It Started Like Any Other Day and think about what you and your household would do to stay safe.