Oklahoma tornado, second time around
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Bonnie Reid likes to make up her own mind about things. So her husband had to tell her twice to crawl underneath the bed and take their 1-year-old son with her. The second time he raised his voice.
Then the tornado hit. It would claim the lives of 107 people that April day in 1947, including a 3-week-old baby the twister plucked from the arms of one of Bonnie's friends.
Sixty-five years later, Sister Reid quickly complied when a nurse woke her up and told her to move to the hallway of Grace Living Center. A killer storm was bearing down once again on Woodward, Okla.
"Tornadoes scare me to death," the 84-year-old Dust Bowl survivor was not ashamed to admit.
Aric Alley, a fellow member of the Woodward Branch, also grew up in northwest Oklahoma and has his own healthy respect for storms. But he and his wife, Brooke, still awake around midnight, were confused by what they were hearing.
A siren was howling somewhere in the distance, but they knew the warning device in their own neighborhood was on a pole not far from their home. Where was that ear-splitting sound they were accustomed to hearing during the weekly tests of the system?
Then there was that rumbling train sound, typically only background noise to a family that lives two blocks from the railroad tracks. Except it kept getting louder.
The next thing they heard "sounded like baseballs being thrown at the house," said Aric, a member of the elders quorum presidency.
Then it came to them, about the same time a cottonwood tree came crashing down on their roof. A tornado was ravaging their block, and their house was being peppered with debris. Sirens in their part of town were not working, they found out later, probably due to an electrical storm a few hours earlier.
The home of Frank and Tammy Windholz was not in the path of the April 15 tornado, but the branch meetinghouse was. The Church building had only minor damage, but several houses across the street were destroyed.
Tammy didn't really know the victims, but their proximity to the chapel made them seem like neighbors to her. She spent the better part of four days doing what she could to help.
"I helped them clean up, gave emotional support," said Tammy, a Relief Society teacher. "A lot of them, they just wanted a hug."
At least half the victims wanted to describe for her how they managed to survive while huddled inside houses that did not.
"Most of them got in the bathtub," she said.
Six Woodward residents died and about 30 were injured, none of them Latter-day Saints.
Aric Alley's parents, Link and Linda, slept through the storm. Their daughter, Stephanie, was watching a movie with a friend. She heard the wind pick up, then the power went out. Her friend got a cell phone call confirming a tornado had hit, and Stephanie awakened her parents.
The Alleys tried to call Aric and another son who lives in Woodward, but cell phones weren't working.
Meanwhile, Aric and Brooke, who is the Primary president, had discovered their car windows were shattered and the tires had gone flat. So they put the youngest of their four children in a stroller and the family began the six-block walk to his parents' house.
It was eerily quiet. With the streetlights out, they could not see the neighboring houses well enough to know that several had been heavily damaged. They saw a family sitting on a curb and asked if they were OK. The house they were sitting in front of seemed to have no serious damage, so they moved on.
Aric and Brooke would later learn the family had lived in the house behind that one, which was destroyed, and they were apparently in too much of a state of shock to try to explain what had happened.
More than 200 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, but no other members of the branch reported serious property damage.
When the sun came up and they saw the demolished condition of two houses across the street from them, Aric and Brooke began counting their blessings.
"We knew that we had made out pretty well," Brooke said.
They were able to return to their damaged house the day after the storm.
Bonnie Reid, whose nursing home was not hit, knows how much worse it could have been.
After the tornado hit Woodward about 8:40 p.m. on April 9, 1947, gas lines started blowing up. Soon, she said, "the whole west side of town was ablaze."
Her house was spared from serious wind damage, and homeless relatives began knocking on their door.
"I had 29 people in my house that night, part of them I didn't even know," she recalled.
Another knock brought a request for all able-bodied men to help search the rubble for survivors.
She recalled that her husband, who had fought in World War II, "said it was the worst thing he had ever been through."