Oklahoma tornado: ‘Our hearts are broken. This is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s huge. It’s horrific’

The ferocity of Monday’s tornado was unprecedented and devastating

Moore

They are the lucky ones along Telephone Road close to Main St in Moore, Oklahoma. Their homes are spattered all over as if by a giant muck spreader, but they are still standing. Two more blocks, however, at SW 4th Street, you cross the boundary that divides the spared from the destroyed, the still living from the dead or missing.

I saw that line earlier from the sky, even on an open field close to where the tornado first touched down on Monday afternoon. It is the edge of the funnel’s fist. One corner of the pasture is strafed a darker green than the rest, like the turned corner of a hanky. Suddenly all the twister’s path through the subdivisions of Moore comes into view. From above, it resembles the scar of catastrophic plane crash, but this plane had kept crashing, on and on for 17 miles.

It helps to see this from the sky, if only to understand the capriciousness of these monsters. Did it have to dig through crowded Moore which only in 1999 suffered another massive twister with winds of 300mph, the fastest ever recorded on the planet? Oklahoma is mostly wide open space. “Our hearts are broken,” Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma Governor, said. She also spent part of today aloft, trying to get to grips with the scale of the tragedy from behind the glass of a helicopter. “This is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely huge. It’s horrific.”

America knows the savagery of nature. But only when you step into the scar, at ground level, do you grasp it fully. There was a Seven-Eleven petrol station and mart here on SW 4th. So they say. You would barely know it now, but for the single pump that still stands. It looks like it has been side-swiped by an eighteen-wheeler, a blackened, listing stump. The rest is a tangle of metal beams from which at least one body has so far been removed.

Look up and walk a little further. It doesn’t matter very much that last night the storm was upgraded from an EF4 to an EF5, the highest possible mark. Not now and certainly not to those who are here. There are the usual crushed and far-flung cars, but here on 6th Street there is an axle. Two wheels, a piece of the drive shaft and the suspension springs, all still connected together but ripped clean from whatever vehicle they once belonged to. Tornadoes like Monday’s can flatten, but they snatch, too.

Worst, of course, they snatch lives. There are few basements here, so to where do you retreat when the roar and the sucking winds arrive? A cheque book torn from someone’s bureau here in Moore dropped from the sky hours later in Missouri, four hours’ drive away. It’s why bark has gone from the trees, those that are still standing, giving the impression everywhere of a First World War battlefield. It’s why some of those trees have sheets of metal wrapped around them. It’s why Amber Anderson, 27, has been removing furniture today from what remains of her house – because it was other people’s. “It all just dropped through my roof,” she says. Most of her furniture had been lifted out, by contrast, except for one item. “My bed is still there, and it’s still made.”

That capriciousness means there are stories of luck here as well as loss. Ms Anderson, who works from home, dashed out on Monday afternoon to fetch a friend and her daughter because their neighbourhood, according to the radio, was in the path of an incoming twister. Leaving was the best thing she could have done because the tornado jagged in a different direction. Minutes later she watched from a distance of about half a mile as it marched into her street and chewed up the home she might otherwise have been cowering in. “It was a crazy-looking thing,” she says, “all wrapped up in debris swirling around it.”

Dana Ulepich, 26, had moved into her home with her husband nine months ago. They used to live close to Joplin, Missouri, which took a direct hit from another mega-twister two years ago today. There, 158 lives were lost. She recalls driving to Joplin to help, handing out fresh water to survivors. And so it was, she says, that on Monday evening local teenagers rushed to help her as she came back from work to find her house stamped, minced and jumbled. “A kid pushed part of a wall from our bed and beneath it found our wedding picture.”

Here, close to the damaged Moore Medical Centre, some homes have been levelled entirely while others have interior walls or even parts of roofs intact, though they number only a very few. Any structure still standing was likely to be marked by spray-painted “X”, signalling that it had been searched for bodies. Any open stretch of land is strewn with sharp shards of timber, some stabbed into the ground like daggers. It is projectiles that can kill in a tornado as much as falling walls.

On the corner of SW 6th St and Heather, Ronnie Vanlandihan and his wife Brandy have painted their own message on the still-standing back wall of their home. “We Survived,” it says, next to Monday’s date. Lucky they are. First, Ronnie sped in his car to the Plaza Tower Elementary School, to pick up two of their four children. The school would be crushed minutes later. Back at home, his two younger children, aged four and two, were lying flat in the bathtub. On top lay their grandfather, Richard Jones, and on top of them all squatted Brandy.

“Of course it was scary,” she says. “It was right overhead and lasted 50 seconds. I counted. But much more frightening was not knowing where Ronnie and the other kids were, if they had got out of the school.” They had, and in fact they were but 300 yards away from getting back home in the car when the twister hit. But 300 yards can be enough with these things. Ronnie and the two children were on the right side of that dividing line.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory