Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

May 22, 2013

Okla. residents come home to pick up the pieces

(Continued)

"I'm 98 percent sure we're good," Bird said.

The Arvins and others looked for bright spots throughout an otherwise dark day. Arvin's son Jeff noticed a set of five dishes without a single crack. He and his nephews pulled out golf clubs, pictures and a decorative key and note holder.

It was an ordeal they've faced before.

Monday's tornado, which traveled 17 miles and was 1.3 miles wide at points, loosely followed the path of a twister that brought 300 mph winds in May 1999. This week's tornado was the fourth since 1998 to hit Moore, a middle-class community that has been one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Oklahoma City.

"'99 taught us a lot, especially in Moore — such as, you've got to have a plan," Jeff Arvin said.

Billy McElrath's entire home was reduced to rubble, and even its concrete foundation was split. His wife and a friend McElrath hired to do some painting managed to make it into an underground shelter moments before the tornado shredded the home.

His 1968 red convertible Corvette was smashed under heaps of bricks and wooden frames inside what was left of his garage.

"My wife got it for my 50th birthday last August," McElrath said. "I haven't driven it since my son and I took it to a car show in Springfield last September."

His plan was simple: "We'll just start over."

Survivors emerged with harrowing accounts of the storm's wrath, which many endured as they shielded loved ones in hallways, closets and bathrooms.

Larry Harjo, his twin brother and their wives headed for the hospital at the end of the street only minutes ahead of the tornado that ripped the roof off their home and blew out its walls.

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