June 23, 2005 1:49 am

Michelle Waters

Search for my sister

Several minutes after my husband, Steve, and I exit Interstate 240 east of Moore, we are headed south on Sunnylane. But traffic slows to a snails pace again. We strain our eyes into the distance, trying to see past the shredded tree parts littering the road and squint into the darkness. Traffic moves a few more inches and we wonder aloud what could be causing the standstill. Could there be tornado damage further ahead? I am anxious to find my parents and my grandma to see if I still have a family.

Steve tells me to calm down. But I cannot. Through the darkness, we see more bits of insulation fluttering about on the road and chunks of twisted metal littering the easements. I can only imagine the worst.

It seems forever before we reach Southeast 19th Street in Moore. We head straight for Wal-Mart to pick up my sister, Kim Boyd, but a co-worker tells us Shirley took her home.

I jump back in the car and we head north to South Fourth Street. We follow the road to Janeway and head north. But a roadblock and police officers will only let us turn right. We need to go forward or left to get to my parent’s house.

“That’s OK, go right, just go right,” I tell my husband. We are big believers in backroads. “Turn on one of these side streets and I can get us to grandma’s house.”

Detour to Grandma’s house

Steve follows my directions and we head north on Lawton, turn right on Northwest 15th Street, turn left on City Avenue… I am following my instincts, hoping I remember the neighborhood I spent much of my childhood playing in during visits to Grandma’s house.

“Left, turn left here,” I say, then realize too late that I am lost. I try to catch my breath and think. I look around. All is dark, the street is full of cars with people looking for other people. Steve keeps driving and soon I recognize a house around the corner that I had spent time in many years before.

“Go back! go back!” I tell Steve. “I know where I am.”

“How do I get out of here?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how to say it. Just turn around and I can tell you how to get out of here.”

Steve turns around and I direct him to the corner at Northwest 17th Street and Sunrise. My mother always complained about the location of the stop sign. If we go one way, it’s a dead end. Another way and we are back on 12th Street. I tell Steve to turn left. And that’s when we see the destruction. I breathe in air and let it out as quickly as I can. I feel panic but try to keep calm. What used to be brick three-bedroom houses are now unrecognizable piles of lumber and bricks.

I recognize the corner of Northwest 20th and Sunrise. A part of the two-story house on the corner is still standing. I tell Steve to turn left. I look around desperately, searching for GrandmaÕs house. All I see are piles of rubble with a few walls standing up like sentries. Steve drives onto the street until his path is blocked by cars haphazardly parked, blocking the way.

“You stay here,” he tells me. I am afraid to leave the car. Afraid of what I might see. I am not prepared for it.

It seems he is gone forever. I hug Sassy, my beagle-chow mix dog and tell her it will be OK. But I am not so sure. I roll down the window and try to find GrandmaÕs house. But I can’t tell which is which. I look out the other side of the car, across the street. I see the front of a house and a garage. I think it looks familiar, but I’m not sure. I look in the direction of Grandma’s house. I keep staring at one sentry-like wall and think to myself: That one must be it.

I can’t hold back any longer. I cry. I know my parents must be dead, too. Through my tears, I stare into the distance, towards the northwest. In the darkness, lighted only by moonlight, I think I see the roofs of houses near my parents’ house.

I had never seen those roofs from here. Before they were blocked by the roofs of my grandmother’s neighboring houses.

Then Steve returns to the car.

“Your Grandma is OK,” he tells me and lays his hand on my leg, a comforting gesture. “She’s at the church. I asked her neighbors where she is and they said she’s at the church. Do you know what church?”

I shake my head. There are a lot of churches in Moore. Then I remember one.

“Maybe she’s at Regency Park (Baptist Church). It’s at the end of the street,” I tell him.

We back out of the neighborhood and take Sunrise to Northwest 21st Street. The houses are still standing here, in stark contrast to those one block south. The street is mostly clear and we follow it to Janeway.

Steve asks a man in the street what church people are going to.

“What about that church?” we ask, indicating the one at the end of the street.

“Oh, no,” he tells us. “That one is destroyed. People are going to First Baptist Church. Try there.”

We decide we’ll go to my parents neighborhood first. We turn right onto Janeway. I notice the car wash is still standing, and the four two-story apartment buildings across the street. And I see a ray of hope beginning to shine. Surely if they are still standing…

But we can’t turn onto Northwest 23rd. Power lines and poles are blocking the entrance.

“Keep going. Turn into the next street,” I tell Steve. He rushes up the street to Northwest 24th, a street with a divided entrance and a one-way sign indicating no entry.

“That’s just for this lane,” I tell Steve. “Turn there anyway. I don’t care.”

We follow the street to Nottingham and turn left, then left again onto my parents street. All the houses are standing.

As we pull up to my parents still-standing house, Steve honks the horn several times.

My parents and a horde of neighbors are standing in the front yard, surrounded by debris.

I jump out of the car and Mom and I embrace. And I start crying again.

Mom tells us that Grandma is OK. She is in Hillcrest hospital, but she is OK. After the tornado hit, Edward, a neighbor, ran to her house and dug her out of the debris. She had hid in the closet in the center of her home and the tornado had tried to suck her out of it. But it hadn’t.

Edward and another neighbor had carried her to Regency Park church. Then a man in an extended cab pickup pulled up and said he would take the injured to Hillcrest. Dad helped Grandma into the pickup, then returned home to get Mom to ride with her to the hospital.

When they returned to the church, the man already had taken Grandma to the hospital, so they returned home, to clean and to guard. My parents were lucky. The storm only tore up the shingles on the roof, blew out the north windows and ripped the electric cable from the back of the house. The house next door to the east lost its roof.

But I still haven’t been able to reach Kim and we aren’t sure just how serious Grandma’s injuries are. I ask Mom if she wants to go see Grandma at the hospital. She says she does, but someone has to watch the house. We also need to contact my sister, but I only have a few minutes left on my cell phone. Electricity and telephone service are unavailable in the neighborhood. I feel frantic, uncertain what to do, but Mom tells me to calm down. She knows things will work out.

As Editor and Publisher, Michelle oversees the content creation for the site. With a background in art, design, and writing, her interests are in color theory, mixed media, and gestalt.

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