Oklahoma tornado survivors share thanks, wonder

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Chad Brown, center, helps his father Rick Brown (not pictured) search for any salvageable remains of his home that was destroyed in the EF 5 tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla. on Monday May 20, 2013. Brown was not home when the tornado hit, he was at Texamo Lake. 'If I wasn't at that lake, I would've been stuck under that pile,' said Brown. Since the tornado, families are returning to what's left of their homes and starting to clean up.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Chad Brown, center, helps his father Rick Brown (not pictured) search for any salvageable remains of his home that was destroyed in the EF 5 tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla. on Monday May 20, 2013. Brown was not home when the tornado hit, he was at Texamo Lake. "If I wasn't at that lake, I would've been stuck under that pile," said Brown. Since the tornado, families are returning to what's left of their homes and starting to clean up.

In the wake of the monster tornado that laid waste Monday to the city of Moore, Okla., stories of survival are being told by many who marvel they came through it alive.

Here are some:

The ride of their lives

In one part of Moore, Nathan Kriesel, his wife and their three daughters -- 4-year-old twins and a 6 year old -- rode out the tornado in their bathtub.

They all strapped on bike helmets and pulled a mattress over themselves.

"We were down as low as we could get with a mattress over our heads," Kriesel said. "It was the center part of the house, with four walls. The strongest area we have."

"And there's nothing left. It was the scariest time of my life," Kriesel said. "I don’t plan to do it like that again."

"We're trying to pick up anything that's worth anything. I found some pictures, a few mementos. We're hoping to find a teddy bear, a special teddy bear, but we haven’t found it," Kriesel said.

-- From Scripps Denver station KMGH-TV, www.thedenverchannel.com

A mother's prayers are answered

Janai Barnett's two children were on opposite ends of Plaza Towers Elementary School when the tornado hit.

One child took cover in a restroom, another in a hallway -- their hands over their heads.

"They said, at some point, everything just kind of disappeared above them," the mother said, as the powerful twister ripped apart the school around them.

"We're all very fortunate that our children are here," Janai Barnett said. "Unfortunately, some are not so lucky… I'm really blessed and very thankful that mine are."

-- Scripps Denver station KMGH-TV, www.thedenverchannel.com.

Finding Nemo

When animals are found in the rubble of the deadly tornado, rescue crews have been bringing them to Moore's Home Depot.

Several people came in hopeful that even though they lost everything else, their pet would still be there alive and waiting.

Scott Burkhart wasn't very optimistic and as he looked around at the cages full of dogs and cats, he saw no sign of his lost dog Nemo.

Nemo liked to hide behind the toilet when he was afraid but Burkhart had already checked through the rubble of his home.

"Oh, 10 percent," said Burkhart about the chance he thought he had of getting his dog back.

Still, Tuesday he decided to check one more time. This time, he heard a whimper that beat the odds.

There, shivering in the shower under a pile of debris, Nemo was making little cries.

"If you saw my house you'd never believe anything could survive. She found the only place. "

-- Scripps Kansas City station KSHB-TV, www.kshb.com

"Sounded like a freight train"

Gary Adams, a lifelong Moore resident, rode out the tornado in his storm shelter.

"It sounded like a freight train that the tracks were running right over the top of you," he said. "I mean, it shook the ground, even though I was six foot underground."

Adams' home is just 100 yards from some of the worst destruction, though his home is still standing.

"I feel so blessed, I am just blessed," he said. "I know a lot of people that lost everything over there and I am just blessed, shook up, probably still be shook up hearing that tornado sound for a while."

Adams has had a storm shelter for about two years. Before the storm he says it was full of water, but his wife urged him to get it ready for Monday's severe weather.

"I finished maybe an hour before the sirens went off," he said.

-- Scripps Tulsa, Okla., station KJRH-TV, www.kjrh.com

New in town

Kathy Gonzalez and her 3-year-old daughter were in their second floor apartment when the tornado hit Monday.

She grabbed the girl and ran to the club house, praying they would survive.

"I didn't bring a pillow, nothing." Gonzalez said. "I just take my baby in my arms and I take her head and that's it. We wait."

A disaster like the tornado in Moore is hard for anyone to endure, but it can be particularly difficult for someone who is new to the area and speaks very little English.

That's what Gonzalez is facing right now. She and her family moved to Moore just two weeks ago.

They are struggling to pick up the pieces left behind by the tornado.

Gonzalez was just beginning to figure out the roads in town when the tornado hit. Now that task seems impossible with the majority of the roads now shut down.

Because English is her second language, it's been an obstacle for Gonzalez and her family to communicate with officials.

But Gonzalez says she and her family are getting by, thanks to the outpouring of support from the community.

-- Scripps station KSHB-TV, www.kshb.com

"Luckiest family in Moore"

With their house too damaged to stay in, and their car totaled, the Verges may seem unlikely candidates for the luckiest family in Moore, but that's exactly how they feel.

When Monday's EF-5 tornado raced through the town, family members were scattered across the storm's path.

Melody Verge was at home with her husband, planning to pick their daughter up from school. But one look down 8th Street -- with the tornado bearing down -- sent the two of them running to hunker down in a closet.

"The next thing I know I just feel the walls in the closet just shaking … and hearing stuff pounding. And I'm like 'oh my God, we're probably not going to make it,'" she said.

She feared for her son, out and about in town, but he swiftly turned up when the storm passed. She was even more worried about her daughter -- a sixth grader at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

When the tornado sirens went off, 13-year-old Mercedie Verge was in math class. She and her classmates were quickly moved to a hallway, then the boys' bathroom, where they ducked their heads under book bags and hoped for the best.

"Things were falling onto my head, and a brick hit my back," Mercedie recalled later.

The tornado ripped the school apart, killing seven students. But Mercedie walked away. When her mother arrived to pick her up, she nearly drove past the remnants of the building. She didn't recognize it.

"It was gone," she said. "Leveled."

With every human member of the family accounted for, all that remained was to find Molly, a boxer.

She turned up later that evening, having ridden out the storm in the family living room.

-- KSHB-TV, www.kshb.com

American made

In the aftermath of the devastating tornado, you wouldn't expect a car to be getting much attention.

But Derek Thayer, 31, is praising his American-made truck after it was carried from the nearly destroyed Moore Medical Center to a yard across the street.

Damage shows the Chevrolet truck was flipped, tossed and turned before landing on all four tires.

But even with the extensive damage, and even in a mud-soaked field, Dave was still able to start the engine, calling it American-made goodness.

While the truck clearly isn't drivable, Thayer has his health and his life, and this truck is one of the little things that made him smile this week.

-- Scripps station KJRH-TV, www.kjrh.com

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