I remember it clearly the memory of May 3, 1999 will always be vivid. I was nine month pregnant with Selah and walking for miles every day to stimulate contractions. Dennis and Keegan walked by my side every step of the way. The sweat of Oklahoma stuck to my skin every time I stepped out of my home.
On that particular day the heat was too oppressive for me. I could barely stand to be outside so we went to the mall to walk the chilled hallways. A few laps into our walk the hallways filled with panicked people scrambling out of the mall. We we discovered that tornados were landing all over Oklahoma City. We were being asked to evacuate the mall immediately. Tornados were common, but something was different about that day. The air was filled with raw fear.
We raced home as we saw tornados in every direction. Keegan hadn’t adjusted to tornado alley yet and he was terrified as we travelled home. Dennis and I had already served our time in the South and while we respected the tornado’s power we felt a sort of familiarity with their presence. We drove home watching carefully not to drive into any of the dozens of tornados that could be seen ripping apart the flat red dirt and the homes that resided on it. Nothing was rooted deep enough to combat the raw strength and power of the wind that day.
Only later in the relative safety of our home did we watch the reports and realize that this storm was like none other we had lived through. A mile wide tornado gobbled up unsuspecting drivers who drove straight into the path of a tornado so large it couldn’t be seen up close. It was right there in front of them and yet was so large that no one recognized it for what it was.
The tornado was the first F5 to hit a major city with winds up to 318 miles per hour. All in all 74 tornados hit Oklahoma and Kansas during that storm. Forty six people died and eight hundred were injured. It was a sobering thought to know that we had been spared the same fate with our young family. The tornados had bounced all around us; north, south, east and west but we were left untouched.
Afterwards we did not have to travel far to visit the devastation the tornados had left behind. We drove silently through the streets thanking God for the safety of our family. A few weeks later the city was still mourning the loss of citizens, homes, entire neighborhoods and memories that had been literally scattered to the winds, as we celebrated new life at Selah’s birth with great reverence for the miracle and frailty of life.
In May of 1999 I was reminded that even the familiar should be respected and lives can be scattered out of our reach within a moment. From the safety of our home in Tennessee, on Selah’s fourteenth birthday we watched the news of the devastating tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma on the same path the 1999 F5 hit.
Oklahomans has rebuilt more than once and they will do it once again. My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones or their homes.