Survivor: The thing about tornadoes is you have no secrets
MOORE, Okla. -- “It’ll be over in just a minute. It’ll be over in just a minute.”
Those are the words Angie’s List member Valerie Kelley kept telling herself while locked in her home’s utility room as the tornado swept through her backyard.
Kelley showed us the utility room when we visited her Oklahoma City neighborhood. It was the safest place she and her five dogs could have been during the storm, as every other room in the house is filled with glass. All the windows on her home were blown out. Parts of her roof are missing. Rain has since come through and is threatening the structural integrity of the ceilings.
The garage door was so warped, it had to be pulled off by a backhoe in order for Kelley to be able to drive her car out. Her backyard shed was in shambles and had to be taken down. Her home is unlivable. She and the dogs are in temporary housing about 30 minutes away.
But despite her circumstances, Kelley knows she’s among the lucky in her neighborhood. Walking down Hudson Avenue, it looked like an evil game of hit or miss, where the tornado’s path is clearly visible but unpredictable. Some houses are only missing a few shingles while others are leveled to the ground. Some homes were marked with spray-painted “Cleared” markings, while others had no walls left at all.
I walked down the block from Kelley’s house and turned into a cul-de-sac. The brief walk down there was scored by a soundtrack of chainsaws, emergency vehicles, loud communication of homeowners and volunteers working to clear debris, move personal items and work towards rebuilding their lives.
This street was instantaneously eerie. There was not a single soul around. Every home was a complete loss. Yards were nothing but piles of debris yet told incredible stories about the homes and families that once lived there.
All that was left of one home was part of the kitchen, where open cabinets gave an insight into the type of food the family liked to eat. I could see a piano and imagined the beautiful sounds it will never make again.
At the home on the corner, brightly colored bunk beds were overturned in the driveway. Thinking of the bunk beds that were once in my own bedroom and the many sleepovers they were invited to, my heart broke thinking of when those sleepovers might once again take place.
Angie’s List member Valerie Kelley walks through the destruction in her backyard.
Another home’s yard was filled with decorations. A Santa Claus figure was lying in the grass, covered with mud, while Christmas lights were strung out on the ground, as if someone had laid them out, ready to hang them up.
“The thing about tornadoes is you have no secrets,” Kelley said.
And she should know. A tornado veteran, Kelley survived the 1999 storm, which destroyed her entire house. Though she chose not to rebuild her home in the same location, it took her six months to rebuild her life after the storm – a process she says can be long, arduous and frustrating.
“There’s not gonna be any peace in this neighborhood for a long time.”