- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

LONE GROVE, Okla. | Standing in a field of debris where mobile homes once stood, Sue Rose wondered how a half-mile-wide tornado could ravage nearly everything in sight and take so many lives but spare hers.

“I don’t know how I made it,” said Mrs. Rose, who rode out Tuesday’s storm in a trailer at the Bar K Mobile Home Park with family members.

Mrs. Rose’s home was heavily damaged and dozens more were destroyed after a tornado with winds estimated at 170 mph ripped through Lone Grove just after dark Tuesday night.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported eight deaths early Wednesday and Carter County Sheriff Ken Grace said a man who was injured in the storm and transferred to a Dallas hospital died later in the day.

Lone Grove City Manager Marianne Elfert said Thursday morning that search and rescue efforts were over. She said 10 to 15 people remain unaccounted for, but they are thought to have simply left the area.

Most utility service was restored by Thursday to the southern Oklahoma town of 4,600 people, and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were assessing damage as the state worked through the process of seeking federal assistance for uninsured losses.

“I think people are very optimistic,” Miss Elfert said. “We are a strong community.”

Sheriff’s Deputy David Gilley said between 100 and 150 homes were destroyed in the town, located about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City.

Most of the deaths occurred in the mobile home park, where no tornado shelter was available for residents to take refuge. In one case, a victim was found underneath a pickup truck the tornado had lifted and dropped on him.

On Thursday, Lynn Self sifted through the debris of a mobile home where he said his friend’s wife died. “I tried to console him as best I could, he really is like a second dad to me,” he said of the friend.

The tornado picked the friend’s mobile home off its foundation and tossed the contents over a wide area.

“They actually found some of the belongings from this house down there,” he said pointing to a pile of debris 100 yards away. The couple’s four dogs survived and were found inside one of their demolished cars.

Firefighters methodically searched each damaged or destroyed structure in Lone Grove on Wednesday, spray-painting large Xs on homes after inspection and allowing residents to go in and check for belongings.

Ginger Byrne looked for cherished possessions in a pile of rubble that used to be her mobile home. The tornado picked it up and dropped it about 100 feet north of where it had stood. “I found my Bible, my mother’s ring,” she said. “It’s just stuff. I have memories in my heart.”

It may take months, even years, before the community fully recovers, but Gov. Brad Henry said state residents have “become very good at responding to disaster.”

“Oklahomans have gone through this kind of disaster before,” he said. “We know what we are doing. We will rebuild.”

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