Dispatches from a disaster

“I saw it right before it hit, and then I grabbed the dogs and headed to the center part of the house, which was a closet,” he said.

That last move saved his life. With the home falling down around him, the 38-year-old man and his dogs were spared.

“I felt the ground shake and then everything came down around me,” he said.

With piles of debris surrounding him and on top of him, Johnston began shouting for anyone within earshot.

Finally, rescue workers heard his pleas for assistance.

“I was pinned in that hole,” he said, pointing to what remained of the closet area. “I got my head out [from under the debris] and began hollering for help. It seemed like I was in there quite a while when this guy dug me and the dogs out, and then he disappeared. I guess he went off to help someone else.”

Having lived through Oklahoma’s worst tornado on record, Johnston said he’s ready to move “back West.”

‘Not moving’
Dewey Williams, a former airman in the U.S. Air Force, used the lifesaving skills he learned in the military to help children trapped inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School at 852 S.W. 11th in Moore.

Two young girls he carried outside had died, but one boy he rescued was still alive.

“The one that was moving was shocked and screaming for Mom and Dad,” Williams said.

He carried the boy to a makeshift medical station to be treated for injuries. Williams said the experience was harrowing.

“One of the little girls reminded me of my little sister,” he said. “It can be very hard carrying a little kid who is not moving.”

Twice a survivor

John Affentranger Jr. considers himself a pretty lucky person. He hasn’t won the Powerball or claimed a big casino jackpot, but he is alive to tell how two massive tornadoes — 14 years apart — avoided his home and spared his life.

Credit: Mark Hancock

He lives on S.W. 139th in Oklahoma City, a block from one of the most ravaged areas struck by Monday’s tornado.

On May 3, 1999, Affentranger made his way to the bathroom, hunkered down in the bathtub and rode out a vicious F5 twister that killed more than 40 people and left behind more than a $1 billion in damages.

Fourteen years later, he sought shelter in the same tub.

Again, he survived. But this time, he said, he was ready to meet his creator.

“It missed me by an inch,” Affentranger said. “One time to the east and another time to the west. I was ready to die.”

He doesn’t know if his luck will hold out a third time.

Credit: Mark Hancock

“I’m thinkin’ I’m going to move,” he said. “This is bullshit. I was in that tub praying. It’s all you can do. I told the Lord, ‘Take me if you want.’”

Equipped with a portable oxygen tank and mask, the man filed up and down Santa Fe, offering his home as a place of refuge for those who now had none.

Not used to this
Chris and Christina Luna are grateful they decided to include a backyard storm shelter in their homebuilding plans almost a year ago.

“We were in there about five to 10 minutes before it hit,” Chris Luna said. “It got really quiet.”

After the twister had passed, the Lunas — with 5-month-old daughter, Skylar, in tow — emerged from the underground shelter to see the devastation.

“I was more scared after it was over and we came out to look what happened,” said Christina Luna. “We will try to rebuild. I still like the area.”

Chris Luna hails from New York, while his wife is from Virginia. They said they’re not used to Oklahoma’s tornado season.

“We’re used to hurricanes or blizzards, so that was scary,” she said.

‘Doing fine’

Having lived in “tornado alley” all their lives, Moore residents James and Novieda Johnson didn’t appear upset that their home was wiped out by the twister.

Credit: Mark Hancock

“One way or another, we will manage,” Novieda Johnson said. “We’re all alive and no one is injured. When I look at everybody and see the ambulances, we’re doing fine.”

The couple’s home on S. Brent Drive was directly in the middle of a devastated Moore neighborhood.

“We were talking about needing a storm shelter, and then we’re running for the bathroom,” James Johnson said. “We’re in for a whole lot of work, but we’re blessed. We don’t look like we’re blessed, but we are.”

They sat in chairs outside their wrecked home Monday evening, watching emergency personnel respond to other crises in the area.

The Johnsons said they took shelter in the bathroom about two minutes before the tornado struck.
“It was the only thing still standing,” she said. “It held its integrity the whole time.”

Tim Farley

This material falls under the archives category because it was imported from our previous website. It will eventually be filtered into the proper category as time allows.

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