May 22, 2013

One block: How neighbors saw twister's deadly path

Allen G. Breed / The Associated Press

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Kevin Metz shows holds up a stopped clock he found in the rubble of his father's home in Moore, Okla., on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Monday's EF5 tornado destroyed Wayne Osmus' home and much of the Oklahoma City suburb. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

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The body of Buster, Wayne Osmus' pit-chow mix, lies under a pile of rubble near his Moore, Okla., home on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. The dog died when he was caught out in Monday's EF5 tornado that flattened much of the Oklahoma City suburb. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

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His roof had been sheared off, and the back wall was collapsed inward. Miraculously, everyone was safe, but two of his dogs were badly injured.

Buster, the 18-year-old pit-chow mix who'd kept Osmus company at the custom wheel shop he used to own, was not so lucky. Osmus found his lifeless body lying nearby under a pile of brush, his eyes and nose caked with grit, his brown coat matted with vegetation.

The Perdues emerged from their blanket to find their 2,100-square-foot house in shambles around them. But they, too, were unharmed.

The storm had torn off part of Jann's roof and pushed a box truck 50 feet across the yard. The horse barn was demolished, but the three animals inside survived largely unscathed.

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As the neighbors picked over the storm's leavings Tuesday, rain pelted down and the sky crackled with lightning. Uniformed National Guard members stood watch at the intersection, keeping all but residents out.

The Garlands dug through the rubble for the safe, which had been ripped from the concrete floor, but was intact. As Rebecca Garland stood in the rain, wearing a pink Oklahoma University T-shirt and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball cap given to her by a stranger, Max emerged from around the pile with a sodden Tin Man doll — part of her once extensive "Wizard of Oz" collection.

A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Dan Garland built the houses on either side of his, including his mother's at No. 1348, now flattened. There was no question but that they'll rebuild.

"I've only been knocked down once," he says, holding a chain saw. "No storm is going to scare me off. I'll build it a little more secure, and I'll have a basement probably. But I love my place here."

It wasn't until a day after the storm that Colleen Purdue realized that that door to their shelter had been ripped from its hinges. She looked inside to find it filled with water and debris.

"It's a good thing we weren't in there," she says, "Or we'd be dead."

The couple aren't sure they will stay. When a visitor wishes her luck, Colleen Perdue says she doesn't need it.

"I've already had all my luck," she says. "Because I'm alive."

From the outside, the Knight and Shelton homes appeared largely intact. But the storm twisted the structures in ways that only a close inspection can detect, and both homes will likely have to be demolished, Knight says.

The old firefighter had been lucky so far. But he wondered how much longer he can beat the odds.

"I've lived here all my life," he says, staring through the shattered windows of the sun room where his wife kept her three parrots. "But this deal. Every time it clouds up, they say it's headed towards Moore. And, man, it's a bad deal."

Standing atop the debris pile beside his home, Osmus shouted down to Jann over the whup-whup of hovering helicopters.

"You going to rebuild?" he asks

She answers without hesitation: "Yes. One hundred percent. 10-4."

Osmus supposes he'll rebuild as well. Osmus is a tough guy — a Vietnam-era Marine — but his peace of mind has been shattered.

Picking through the rubble, his son, Kevin Metz, finds a wall clock, its hands frozen at 3:15. After some more digging, Osmus finds one of his most treasured possessions — a menacing-looking Bowie knife with an eagle's head carved into the ivory handle, a gift from a Marine pal.

But the 1958 Ford Fairlane his father gave him is a total loss.

People always say that it's just stuff, and that it can be replaced. But Osmus knows it's more than just that.

"Memories — they're always there," he says, surveying the wreckage through bloodshot eyes, "But material items to MAKE you remember. If they're gone, you lose touch. That's the hard part."

Somewhere in the distance, a cock crows. And Osmus returns to his search

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