MOORE, Okla. — Wayne Schinnow was working on May 20 on the roof of a business when he saw the storm that would bring an F5 tornado only blocks from his home in Moore.
“It made a critical turn about eight blocks before it got to our house,” Schinnow said. “It took out a 7-11 (convenience store) and turned to the south ... if it didn’t make that turn, it would have headed right to our house,” Schinnow said.
Schinnow, a 1986 graduate of Forest City, Iowa, High School, said on May 25 houses only a few blocks from his and his wife, Susan’s, home were destroyed.
The F5 tornado killed 24 people and destroyed property including two schools and a hospital in a 17-mile section of the city.
“Our roof got peppered pretty good,” Schinnow said. A lot of debris also hit the house and the yard.
But Schinnow knows is family his fortunate, because minutes after the storm passed he saw residents who lived only several blocks away crawling out of their homes.
“The biggest thing is you feel so sorry for them,” Schinnow said. “You see people standing outside, they have nothing, just a few belongings from what used to be their home. It makes you thankful.
“It’s devastating to see that amount of damage,” Schinnow said. “All you can think is ‘is it ever going to be rebuilt?’ But it’s happened so many times.”
Enough times that emergency workers are skilled in response, because within minutes, “they were searching and getting people out of their homes. They were that quick and have that good of a system,” he said.
Susan Schinnow was home on May 20. Wayne Schinnow, who works for a commercial air and heating business, had called his wife to warn her of the approaching storm. She planned to take shelter in a neighbor’s storm shelter but that had flooded because of prior heavy rain. Susan Schinnow instead took shelter inside her home’s laundry room.
Wayne Schinnow had started for home on Interstate 35 but State Patrol blocked the interstate because of the storm.
“I remember the feeling of helplessness,” Schinnow said. “That I couldn’t get there faster to make sure that my wife going to be OK.”
He took a back road home only to find that Susan wasn’t home. She had left to try and see damage.
“She couldn’t get very far because of the (utility) poles that were down and the debris,” Schinnow said.
“I think it gave Susan a big scare,” said Schinnow’s mother, Glenice Schinnow, of Mason City. Glenice Schinnow said Susan believed she and the neighborhood would be gone.
“It put the fear of God in her. And she’s lived there her whole life,” Glenice Schinnow said of her daughter-in-law. “For a period of time, (her son) couldn’t reach her and that really frightened him.”
This is the third significant tornado to hit the Moore area in the past 20 years. Susan Schinnow’s parents lost their home in a prior storm, Schinnow said.
“I’ve lived in Moore since 1992,” Wayne Schinnow said. “You do consider moving, but everything you know is here. We have connections to the area. Both kids live in Moore. It’s home.”
And while the Schinnow house was spared significant damage from the tornado, the neighborhood lost power and water for several days.
Schinnow said it was eerie to be in the neighborhood those first few nights.
“The neighborhood was empty and you could hear helicopters flying overhead,” Schinnow said.
“You hope it doesn’t happen again,” Schinnow said. But in some form, “you get used to it. It’s a fact of living in this area.”
Rae Yost is editor of the Forest City Summit and Britt News-Tribune, also Lee Enterprises newspapers.