A family from Richmond County that had moved to Oklahoma City is safe and sound after the massive tornado ripped a 17-mile wide track of devastation through the area last week. The powerful EF5 tornado killed 24 people, including 10 children, and destroyed 1,200 homes.
Victoria Johnson grew up in Hamlet but relocated to Oklahoma City within the past two years after marrying her husband, Weldon Johnson.
Victoria said she was on her way to her daughter’s school when the day went from bright and sunny to dark as night.
“I was on my way to pick up my little girl from school,” said Victoria. “Everything went from sunny to dark like it was 9 o’clock at night. We hadn’t gotten a warning yet but then the alarm went off.”
Victoria said she realized then she wasn’t going to make it to the school.
“I had to get somewhere safe,” she said. “I never made it to the school. I went to my boss’ office and he was going to shelter me and the other employees. The tornado was 12 miles away but you could hear it.”
Victoria said even the sound was frightening.
“I sounds like you’re under water, like a whale, or something exploding,” she said. “I was really scared. I was really praying. I’m a believer and you’ve got to be ready to meet the Lord and Savior at any time.”
The tornado hit an area Victoria had been scheduled to go to for work, but her schedule changed at the last minute and she was needed elsewhere. She said she was thankful for the change of events, especially since later examination of the area revealed that the tornado hit the highway she had been on.
Meanwhile at the school where her daughter attends first grade, the children were taken to a hallway in a low-lying area of the school. Victoria later asked her daughter what they had done when the alarm went off.
“She told me the teacher had them walk to a lower level of the school and bend down with her hands over their heads in a hallway,” said Victoria. “She said they stayed there until the principal cleared the school. She said she wasn’t really scared.”
In preparation of their move to the Midwest, Victoria and her husband Weldon explained the likelihood of tornadoes to their daughter, who was nervous as first but soon grew used to hearing the alarm testing every Saturday at noon.
Weldon Johnson is a tow-truck driver and a pastor. He was out towing cars when the tornado hit. Many cars had sustained significant hail damage from a tornado-generating storm just a few days before the massive tornado struck. He said the sky grew dark and it started to hail. He called his wife and attempted to head west for clear weather.
“I tried to get west but you could see the clouds lowering,” said Weldon. “I heard the sirens go off and the radio got static. I heard there was a tornado forming 17 miles south. I didn’t know it was taking the same path as the last one.”
Weldon said his towing service was needed in the aftermath, some of which required him to tow cars off of houses. Although Weldon grew up in Oklahoma and had plenty of experience with tornadoes, the devastation still holds his fascination as “the might of God.”
“Growing up with tornadoes is something,” said Weldon. “My wife and I wrote a book called ‘Heaven is Hiring’ and it’s about the storms in our lives and how to weather them.”
Weldon said you never get used to seeing a house blown off its foundation, but he feels blessed that he and his family are safe.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.