News Column

Moore Tornado Victims Ran for Their Lives

May 22, 2013

Andy Georgalas was watching live tornado coverage from his Moore, Okla., home when he realized that the destructive funnel cloud on television was spinning his way.

"We're so used to tornadoes in Oklahoma. It looked pretty typical," said Georgalas, a graduate of Warwick Valley High School in Warwick, N.Y., and the nephew of Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg.

"Then, in about five minutes, everybody on the news got frantic, and all of a sudden the tornado grew to a massive size."

Moore is close to Oklahoma City and Tinker Air Force Base, where Georgalas has spent much of his career.

"It was coming right at our house. We don't have a storm shelter. We decide to head east as fast as possible," Georgalas said.

He, his wife and family friend scurried out to the car, bringing three small, cowering and whimpering dogs.

The air was still. The sky was dark. Storm sirens screamed.

They weaved out of the neighborhood, turned onto the main road and looked to the west for their first view of the massive tornado churning along the ground.

It looked to be less than two miles from the car.

"It was enormous. Total blackness. It looked like a shadow of a mountain barreling down on you," said Georgalas.

No one in the car talked.

"It was paralyzing to see something like that. It was like nothing you've ever seen before," Georgalas said.

They turned toward blue skies and drove for about 11 miles, listening to radio coverage and waiting for word that it was safe to return.

It took 20 minutes to drive away and an hour to get home. Power lines were down and debris blocked some roadways.

Roads were jammed with the cars of others who had fled, and emergency responders pouring into the town from neighboring communities. Returning to Moore, Georgalas saw nurses in uniforms, some walking and others running toward damaged areas.

His home was untouched. Power was still off Tuesday afternoon. Just across the road, Interstate 35, there is devastation.

The local medical center was badly damaged. The 30 patients inside were moved to another location. The movie theater directly across from his home and near the hospital was being used to triage the injured, Georgalas said.

When asked about Plaza Towers Elementary School, where a number of children died, Georgalas was silent for a long time.

"I just can't believe it. It's just unbelievable in this town. It's a nice place. I hate to see that happen to the families. It's just -- what can you say?"


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Source: Copyright Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, PA) 2013

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