I was denied shelter during a killer tornado – and lived to tell you about it
On March 25, 2015, I was driving, on government business, on highway 412 from Arkansas towards Tulsa, Oklahoma. I knew there was a forecast of severe weather and I was trying to get to a hotel in Tulsa before a storm developed.
But at 5:30 pm, as I entered east Tulsa, I received an alarm in my smart phone that told me that there was a tornado warning in my area and I needed to take shelter. A radio station announced that the tornado was moving over Tulsa, east bound, along highway 412. The tornado was coming towards me!
I stopped at the only open business in that area: a liquor store. As I got out of my car I heard the tornado sirens and right in front of me, about one half mile away, I saw the tornado wall cloud, moving behind a row of industrial warehouses and the store at my right. The employees in the store had no idea that there was a tornado warning, even less that the storm was moving so close behind their store. There was a television in the store but it was set to a sports channel. I advised the employees to monitor a local news channel that was transmitting information about the tornado.
I asked the employees if they had a room where we could take shelter. The manager told me “I’m sorry but it would be illegal for us to allow you to enter the back of our store.” I was denied shelter! (This article posted by ISHN will help me spread the word that business owners must not turn people away during a tornado warning).
I had to get back in my car and drive away, trying to find shelter. I did not know where I was, so I let my sixth sense take over. I turned left into the first street that I found (away from the tornado at my right). Then I turned into downtown Tulsa looking for a hotel where I could take shelter in the lobby. I saw an indoor parking garage where I took shelter, with several other people, minutes before a strong hail storm hit.
The tornado was approximately a mile from us; that part of Tulsa lost power, but we were safe. Half an hour later we received the all clear. I noticed that I was only a block from my hotel (was Somebody guiding me?).
Later the news mentioned that the EF-2 tornado had killed one person and injured 30 at a mobile home park near Tulsa.
A friend called and informed me that an EF-1 tornado had touched down, without warning, near my home in Moore, Oklahoma. My wife had been monitoring the weather forecast on television when she heard that the tornado had touched down three miles away and she had to run to our underground shelter. Luckily there was no damage to our home. The tornado destroyed more than 30 homes in Moore and damaged many others, but caused no deaths or injuries.
What can employers and people do to protect themselves?
Severe weather is forecasted days in advance. Watch the weather forecast in local news channels. There are apps for mobile phones that will warn in your area. When the alarms sound, look for shelter. Business owners and building managers must not refuse shelter to members of the public. During the May 20, 2013 tornado at Moore, Oklahoma, the Moore Medical Center saved more than 200 persons that they allowed to take shelter in their hospital.