Storm survivor weathers second F5 tornado

Storm survivor weathers second F5 tornado

Angie’s List member Valerie Kelley walked out of a damaged but still standing house moments after a mile-wide, EF5 tornado swept through her Oklahoma City neighborhood the afternoon of Monday, May 20. Just two blocks away at Briarwood Elementary School, the situation was much worse. Dozens of children were trapped beneath debris.

Kelley joined a group of panicked parents, who immediately began searching for children before the first responders arrived on scene. “The ones that I was involved with, none of them were hurt,” Kelley says. The storm claimed 24 lives throughout the area, but no deaths were reported at Briarwood, according to Amy Elliott of the Oklahoma’s Medical Examiner’s office.

The first time Kelley experienced an F5 tornado was in 1999. Though Kelley wasn’t at her Moore, Okla., home at the time the storm hit, she had trouble finding it in the aftermath, as all recognizable landmarks were gone and houses were damaged beyond recognition. “And I finally figure out where my house was at, and my house at that time was still standing. The roof was gone and the walls were still up,” she says. Thoughts of salvaging any personal belonging were quickly washed away with a heavy rain that fell the next morning, which resulted in Kelley’s home being declared a complete loss.

This time, Kelley rode out the storm inside her home’s utility room with her five dogs. While at work earlier that afternoon, Kelley says her bosses turned on the TV in time to hear that a tornado was forming in nearby Newcastle, Okla. “Well, usually when they form in Newcastle, that means they come this direction,” Kelley says.

Kelley raced home to bring her animals inside. “And then the electricity went out, so I was trying to use the flashlight on my phone to find where they were at because [the dogs] wouldn’t listen to me at that point,” Kelley recalls. “So, I got them all gathered up. We all got in the utility room, we sat down in the corner and they all jumped on top of me and they were all just shaking. And so I just kept telling them, ‘It’ll be over in a minute. It’ll be over in a minute.’”

Kelley says the tornado passing over the house sounded like an intensely magnified whistling sound. “And then, every now and then, you’d hear something great big hit the house…you just kept waiting for it get over so you still had a roof on.”

After about a minute and a half, the storm had passed and Kelley and her dogs emerged from the utility room to find the roof still on but damaged. A wooden beam was protruding through her living room ceiling, windows were blown out and the garage door was mangled.

Kelley says she switched insurance companies in October 2012 and ended up going with a policy that was more expensive but covered her shed and sunroom – both of which would not have been insured under the previous policy. During the initial conversation with her insurance adjuster, she was told that she would be paid her limits, which has given her some sense of relief as she looks towards rebuilding. “You might pay a little bit more but you never know," she says. "Who ever thought I would go through two F5s?”

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A tattered flag still waves above the rubble of a home in Moore, Oklahoma. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
A tattered flag still waves above the rubble of a home in Moore, Oklahoma. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Oklahoma tornado veteran Valerie Kelley has lost her house to the wind before and knows she is among the lucky to be walking through the rubble of her home.

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