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Former Palmerton residents ride out killer tornado in storm shelter

  • SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Using their garage as a billboard, the George family sent out a powerful message after surviving the stage EF4 tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City and its suburbs.
    SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Using their garage as a billboard, the George family sent out a powerful message after surviving the stage EF4 tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City and its suburbs.
Published May 24. 2013 05:03PM

From her home's underground storm shelter, former Palmerton resident, Deborah George of Oklahoma City listened in the dark to the sounds of the stage EF4 tornado ripping through her residential area Monday, pummeling her South Harvey Avenue home with debris.

"It sounded like a freight train going through. I could hear the stuff hitting the house," said George.

George had hurried inside the storm shelter at the sound of the sirens that would prelude the violent tornado that tore through the suburbs of Oklahoma City Monday afternoon, taking 24 lives and injuring over 200 more.

George said being inside the storm shelter was " … kind of a double-edged sword. I felt safe being in the tornado shelter because we know how well they build them … but still actually hearing the tornado that close to the house, it was scary.

"The dog was acting up and you are just sitting in there. You are not able to see the TV and see where things are. You are just listening to the weather radio," said George.

Deborah George's son, Troy George, had been able to get in contact with his mother when cell phone service returned briefly to the area. Troy George told her that the storm had moved east and it was safe to leave the shelter.

George emerged from the dark, powerless shelter and said her quiet neighborhood looked like a war zone.

Her own home was not down to the ground but was severely damaged. The windows were shattered and the white blinds were bursting through the glass to the outside. Two-by-fours looked like darts thrown into the roof. The home's gutters had been torn off and lay in the lawn among uprooted shrubbery and long splinters of broken wood. A decorative house sign announcing "The George's" home, still hung beside the front door on a porch that was littered with debris of broken flower pots; pink petals scattered among the dirt.

All down the block, the roofs of houses were patchwork pieces of gray tiles and exposed plywood. Cars with tree limbs in their passenger seats were blown into front lawns; their hoods, buckled and broken.

"You lose a sense of where you even are because there are no street signs. There are no house numbers to look at. You don't even know what street you are even on anymore," said George.

The path of a tornado is unpredictable. The storm spared some homes yet left nothing of others.

"There are hundreds of homes that are literally down to the ground. On the street down from us, there was debris in all the yards but most of those homes weren't damaged at all ... three or four streets down from us, the houses are completely gone," said George.

The Georges' home was not spared and suffered significant damage. It has not yet been determined if it will be deemed fixable or condemned.

Their daughter, Melissa Tarnan, had been working at a local school nearby when the tornado hit. Tarnan was fortunate enough to reach her parents' home before the area was put on lockdown to give better access to emergency vehicles and personal.

After the arrival of her daughter, George was forced to leave the house immediately. She stopped only to gather a few items from inside. George said she grabbed her camera to take pictures of the damage, her husband's medications and two bags stuffed with clothing, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and other necessities.

From her daughter's home, George expressed concern for the area's elementary schools damaged by the tornado. In her development, Briarwood Elementary had been damaged but all the children were safe. A little farther away, Plaza Towers Elementary school had been destroyed completely. Students from Plaza Towers are among the 24 lives claimed by the tornado.

As the dust settles, the family cannot predict what will happen next.

"Everything is kind of just up in the air. We need a little time to adjust to what happened and make some decisions," said George.

"The one thing about it though: the people out here, I must say are outstanding. When something like this happens, they are right there to help out," said George. "It's comforting to know that everybody bands together and they really do look out for one another."

The family was able to return to the home late Tuesday night to salvage and collect a few additional items. It was then that Troy George spray-painted the words: "Shelters save lives!!" across the damaged garage to send a thankful reminder.

"There are a lot of people that will sit back and think, 'Oh, it won't happen to us,'" said Troy George. He said that had there not been a push for storm shelters in the area, the results could have been catastrophic.

Troy George placed an American flag beside the message as a sign of strength and unity during the hard time.

"We're pushing on," he said.

The family is receiving a tremendous amount of support from family and friends in the Palmerton area, and said all of the Georges are super appreciative of the support.

"At a time like this, it really means a lot. People have no idea how much it means to our family. Of course we have our friends here but to get that kind of support from back home from old classmates and military friends … it's heartwarming," said Troy George

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