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Okla. cop who helped survivors describes tornado devastation

Debris was in heaps; it looked like a war zone, said the detective, who is a bomb squad technician

By Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND, Okla. — Like other Oklahomans, Edmond Police Detective Marion Cain was keeping an eye on the weather Monday.

The storm, which produced the tornado began at 2:45 p.m., about 4.4 miles west of Newcastle and its 20-mile long path went through Newcastle, Moore and south Oklahoma City. About 10 minutes after it formed, it was already causing EF4 damage. Maximum winds of the tornado, upgraded to an EF5, were 200-210 mph, according to information released at 2:50 p.m. Tuesday by the National Weather Service. Its estimated maximum width was 1.3 miles.

A destroyed police car sits among the debris of tornado-ravaged homes in Moore, Okla. on May 21. (AP Image)
A destroyed police car sits among the debris of tornado-ravaged homes in Moore, Okla. on May 21. (AP Image)

At 4 p.m., Detective Cain’s shift ended. He went home and checked on his family, which includes three children — age 9, 7 and 2. Volunteers who wanted to go assist with the tornado search and rescue efforts were to report to the station in downtown Edmond.

At about 5 p.m., a column of Edmond Police Department vehicles containing a dozen officers and a K9 team, headed by Maj. Steve Thompson, sped through downtown Edmond and went south toward Moore. Detectives and a second K9 team were part of the contingency, Edmond Police Department spokeswoman Jenny Monroe said.

By about 5:30 p.m., thanks to officers who cleared I-35 as far north of Moore as they could, allowing only first responders through, Cain and the others arrived at the affected area. They checked in at the command post, which at that time was set up at a Home Depot, and waited for their assignment.

In Moore, the affected area includes untold numbers of homes — entire blocks — damaged or destroyed. Other structures hit include a hospital and the Briarwood Elementary School. Massive damage also occurred at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Oklahoma City. Finding specific locations was hampered by the fact that street signs, in addition to complete blocks of homes, were no longer standing.

Cain said there was debris everywhere. The road was covered with dirt and mud. People were trying to get into the area to find family members; victims were leaving the area in whatever manner they could — via foot, bicycles. Most cars in the heart of the affected area when the tornado hit were inoperable. Many had been tossed by the winds and landed this way and that way, Cain said. Debris was in heaps; it looked like a war zone, said the detective, who is a bomb squad technician.

“It’s all scrambled up and dropped,” Cain said.

When he arrived, some victims were recovering small photographs. The officers spoke with victims, asking them if they were OK. Despite the difficulties of their circumstances, their great loss, many of them were just grateful for those who had come to help, Cain said.

It was dark when Cain went to Plaza Towers Elementary, where firefighters were removing debris as they worked to get to trapped children. Cain and other officers ensured surrounding neighborhoods had been cleared, that all ambulatory victims had been assisted.

Amongst the debris, Cain saw some photographs, appliances, the cars tossed around by the tornado. One hard to believe sight was a car engine that had been somehow pulled out of the framework and deposited 15 feet away. It looked as if the tornado had sucked items out of roofless homes, Cain said.

There were broken water pipes, the odor of natural gas. Christmas decorations stored in attacks were also strewn about here and there. A moment that struck the detective emotionally was seeing a child’s school work including an art project, Cain said. It made him think about his three children, he said.

“These are kids,” Cain said. “These are helpless little lives.”

At about 2 a.m. Tuesday, after a long day at ground zero, Cain arrived at his home. A second group of Edmond personnel left the affected area at 5 a.m., Monroe said. Another group was scheduled to replace them at about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Cain said, noting other Edmond officers most likely feel the same, it was important to help both the victims and the family of first responders. It’s what cops do, he said.

Reprinted with permission from the Edmond Sun

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