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3:43 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

Okla. Tornado Survivors Try To Collect Lives After Storm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Moore, for the many people whose homes were destroyed, the top priorities are finding a place to stay, some clothes to wear, and food to eat. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been talking with survivors in Moore, and he sent this story.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Jamie Martinez(ph) is a retired police officer who still does security work, and that's where he was when the tornado slammed into his neighborhood yesterday.

JAMIE MARTINEZ: Our house is gone. It's leveled. Our - missing six pets; the least of our problems. I mean, we're alive; that's what counts. And our family's intact. We have nothing.

GOODWYN: Martinez rushed home, arriving minutes after the tornado had passed.

MARTINEZ: It looked like a bomb went off. It's so unrecognizable. It's so much devastation, decimation, just total chaos - people running around, gas lines broken, people crying out for help, police everywhere, sirens - just chaos, like a war scene.

GOODWYN: In this country, most of us don't expect to have to suddenly make a decision which could cost or save our lives. But yesterday, Martinez's wife, Christy Parrish(ph), did. She decided to take her daughter to her sister's house, where there's a shelter. As they left, their next-door neighbor said she and her son were hunkering down in place.

As the tornado passed directly over them, Parrish, her daughter and her sister huddled underground. They were right across the street from the Plaza Towers Elementary School, and they heard the monster approach from a mile away.

CHRISTINE PARRISH: I was in my sister's shelter, and you could hear it. It was a mile away, and it sounded like this roar. And you could just hear it, and feel the debris hitting our shelter. And we came out, and you could see smoke from our neighborhood. And I got over there - and there's nothing there.

GOODWYN: As they searched in vain for the dogs and cats in the rubble, they saw rescuers doing the same at the house next door - only they weren't looking for pets. They were looking for the neighbor and her 7-year-old son.

PARRISH: They were digging her out while we were looking through our stuff. And we thought they were looking for their dogs, and it was her. (Voice trembling) And they found her, and she was passed.

MARTINEZ: She had her child ripped out of her arms 'cause the last - we knew that she grabbed him, and went for cover. And they can't find him, but they found her, so...

GOODWYN: The Martinezes discovered, to their utter dismay, that every neighbor around them who'd remained at home, was dead. It is an emotional gauntlet survivors here are moving through. At first, there's the titillating excitement of a massive storm bearing down on your town, but you expect to be OK. Then comes apprehension as the storm turns directly towards you, then absolute terror as your life hangs in the balance.

As you step out of the shelter - or the closet, or the bathroom - back into the day, there's a flood of relief and joy. But that quickly turns to shock and horror as the devastation around you, and the horrible turn fate has dealt you, makes itself at home. Though the Martinez family has nothing but the clothes on their backs and the stunned looks on their faces, all three have a new appreciation of their precious lives.

MARTINEZ: You don't expect it to happen. You just take it for granted. And let me tell you, you shouldn't take it for granted.

GOODWYN: The Martinez family says they will rebuild in Moore. But this time, they will have their own underground tornado shelter.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Moore, Okla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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