‘Please God,” Victoria Franklin prayed Tuesday night as she huddled alone on the floor of her Del City, Okla., home, “don’t let me die in a tornado.”
“I had just had a shower and was in my nightgown and watching TV when they said the tornado would hit Del City at 7:39,” Franklin, 41, recalled in a phone interview. “We get tornado warnings here all the time and I didn’t take it seriously. … I was sitting in my living room when the power went out and I went and lit some candles in the dining room. As I did, my ears pressurized — you know like they do on airplanes — and then I heard a roar and looked out the dining room window at a black mass coming towards me. I ran into a hallway, sat on the floor and it hit. It blew out the picture window in the dining room and the window in my front bedroom and then it blew down the walls.
“I kept my head down and big chunks of wall blew into me, and then the roof starting falling in on me. Plaster and pieces of house were blowing in my mouth and in my hair – and I had just shampooed it.”
Suddenly, the wind stopped and Franklin said she looked up to see darkness. But she found a light to her right, crawled toward it and climbed out.“The only portion of my house still standing was the wall I had been leaning on. The rest of the house imploded. … It was pouring rain and I thought that maybe I could get to my car that had been parked in the driveway. But it was smashed in, blown over on top of some rubble,” she said.
Franklin, the divorced mother of a 9-year-old daughter who was out of state when the storm hit, is believed to have been the only one of 2,400 Jews in greater Oklahoma City to lose a home in Monday’s explosive tornadoes. The storms killed more than 40 in Oklahoma and Kansas and were among the most powerful on record, with winds of more than 300 miles an hour. The largest twister formed about 45 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, stayed on the ground for four hours and cut a path of destruction a least a half-mile wide.
Franklin, a substitute teacher, ran to one of the few homes standing on this block southeast of Oklahoma City, borrowed a pair of shoes, sweat pants and a T-shirt, and joined other neighbors in running from the area because of the smell of gas. As she raced to a shelter set up at the nearby Air Force base, she saw the body of a neighbor lying in his driveway. A woman in the neighborhood was also killed by the tornado, she said.
About four hours after the tornadoes hit, Rabbi Ovadia Goldman of the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater Oklahoma City said he received a call from a relief organization asking for materials for displaced children — baby bottles, formula, diapers, blankets and toys. He said he took what he had in his home and the Chabad Center, called two other families for whatever they could spare, and then spent two hours dropping off the articles at five shelters.
Rabbi Richard Marcovitz of the community’s other congregation, Emanuel Synagogue, said he opened the synagogue Monday night for anyone seeking shelter.
And he said he spent Tuesday morning calling members of his 300-family Conservative congregation to see how they were. He said he learned that Franklin was the only member to lose her home.
“Another congregant said she had literally watched the tornado pass over her house,” he said.
Rabbi David Packman of Temple B’nai Israel said he also spent Tuesday morning calling every family of his 400-family Reform congregation to make sure they were all safe.
“We had two families who were attending a high-school performance with their children when the tornado hit,” he said. “The high school was devastated, but they remained in the brick-walled auditorium and were saved.
“When they came out after the storm had passed, they saw that all 150 cars in the parking lot had been destroyed and that there was a huge dead horse in the lot that had been carried about 20 miles by the storm.”
None of the synagogues sustained any damage in the storm. Neither did the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, according to its executive director, Edie Roodman.
“The tornado was five miles from my home, six miles from the office,” she said. “I could actually hear it, but we had no damage. … My daughter at her high school had started a relief campaign for Kosovo, but last night she said they would have to change the focus and provide relief for our own community.”
Franklin returned to her neighborhood Tuesday, but authorities kept her three blocks from her home.
“They won’t let anybody in because they said it’s a disaster area,” she said.
She later met a friend from the congregation, Eileen Chevalier, who invited her to stay with her family. Chevalier said she, her husband and their 11-month-old daughter were at a restaurant in suburban Midwest City when the tornado hit.
“We did not see the funnel cloud, but the sky turned black and it was raining hard,” she said. “I was terrified, absolutely terrified. The management then said that everybody should go into the walk-in freezer. They had prepared it with sofa cushions and blankets. We stayed there for about 10 minutes” before the all clear was broadcast on the portable radio they had.
“The restaurant was not damaged. The tornado came within a quarter of a mile, then picked up and touched down five miles away.”
Franklin said the Jewish federation has offered her money to buy clothes and that others in the Jewish community have rallied to help her.
“Everybody knows [about me],” she said. “Everybody is asking what do I need. It’s a wonderful community. … I have been left with a pair of underwear and a nightgown, but I’m alive. It’s a blessing.”