MOORE, Okla. – As a community shatters in the wake of a deadly EF-5 tornado, ordinary citizens become heroes as they give selflessly to those directly affected. Many who answer the call to help are volunteers or first responders, but others are reacting to the Moore tornado as citizen soldiers and airmen serving their communities.
The lives of two individuals came together May 20 in the midst of the destruction when an Oklahoma Air National Guardsman provided aid to a Moore resident pulled from the rubble and literally gave her the shirt off his back.
Sandra Adams, 65, was in bed when her 88-year-old mother came to get her to take cover in a bathtub along with the family dog, Duke. With wind speeds of more than 200 mph, Adams remembers the sound of the tornado as it passed overhead, tearing up everything it came into contact with.
“It got really loud as the tornado came closer, the lights went out and everything around us began falling inward on top of us,” Adams said. “I could see through some of the debris that there was even more debris flying around overhead. Once all of the chaos was over, I could see some light through the stuff now on top of us. That’s when I knew my house was gone.”
With the tornado now passed, Adams and her mother found themselves buried in their bathtub unable to dig their way out. They had no choice but to wait until someone could make their way through the rubble that once was her neighborhood.
“I had just one oxygen bottle with less than 30 minutes of use left on it when a 13-year old boy found us,” Adams said. “He yelled to me that he was going to have to get some bigger guys to help get me out.”
It took four men to dig Adams and her mother out of their debris-covered bathtub and carry them to a place where they could receive medical treatment and wait for transportation to the nearest hospital. Little did Adams know that she would soon meet a member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, who would leave a lasting impression.
Fellow Moore resident, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Drew Stanley, was at work at the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base when the reports of the tornado began being televised. Stanley, an air cargo specialist for the logistical readiness squadron, 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, watched as local meteorologists projected the tornado would pass over his house.
“I drove home to make sure my roommates and dogs were going to be pulled out of the storm cellar,” Stanley said. “I had been through a tornado a year earlier and knew that police officers would block off the area to people who weren’t first responders.”
Fortunately, his home was not in the direct path of the tornado. So Stanley turned his focus on making sure his family members, who also live in the area, were safe. He then responded to radio broadcasts that the nearby Briarwood Elementary had been hit with children inside.
“I headed that direction to help, but the traffic was so bad I had to pull over and began running to help,” Stanley said. “With power lines down and the neighborhood being completely cut off from vehicle access, getting in to check for people was difficult.”
A police officer on the scene saw Stanley in his Air Force uniform and waved him down to have him help administer aid to victims that were emerging from the rubble and storm cellars. Stanley suddenly found himself in the middle of the chaos, standing on rubble piles that were once occupied houses, and providing first aid.
“I never made it to the school because victims began coming out before I made it there, so I began immediate first aid with the first responders in the area,” Stanley said.
Stanley was about to meet Adams for the first time.
“When I found Sandra, she was shaking so hard,” Stanley recalled. “I gave her my [Air Force] blouse after asking her if she was cold. I then began treating her for shock; everyone was in shock.”
The deadly tornado that ripped through the quiet communities of Newcastle, Moore and southeast Oklahoma City is responsible for more than 20 deaths, including 10 children, just a day after another tornado took the lives of two people in Shawnee 30 miles to the east of Oklahoma City. Damages are estimated to be more than $2 billion.
The lives of many people changed in the aftermath of the deadly tornado, but the two strangers, who would have otherwise never met, were able to leave a positive light on a tragic incident. Adams was determined to find the owner of the Air Force blouse once she was safe and stable in a local hospital. So, she used local media to set up a meeting with her Air Force rescuer.
With a smile on his face and a handful of flowers, Stanley walked into Adams’ hospital room for what would be their second meeting. This time, it was on more pleasant terms, with Adams giving Stanley a big hug in appreciation, his military blouse returned with many thanks.
“It’s great seeing that she is fine,” Stanley said. “I’m glad I could bring a little light on such a devastating situation.”