Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Jacob Misener
Editor 

Local families devastated by Oklahoma tornado

Deadly outbreak of storms leaves relative of local family trapped

 

Jacob Misener

Skies were dark across much of the Plains section of the United States on Monday. This picture, taken Monday evening heading west on Interstate 80 shows lingering clouds from the storm systems.

Surrounded by her family, local resident Jeanette Rabender watched news coverage of a severe tornado that ravaged suburbs of Oklahoma City, with countless thoughts and emotions flooding into her mind.

“It went right over my oldest son’s area,” said Rabender. “When I saw the devastation on the tv, I immediately panicked. Being with my parents, I tried to constrain myself, to try and not scare them.”

Her son, Rick Kitchens, his wife Jennifer and their three sons - Gabriel, Elijah and Noah - all live in Norman, OK, which is near Moore, OK, the city that was devastated by Sunday’s tornado. The storm was reported by the National Weather Service to be an EF-4, with sustained winds as high as 200 mph.

“Let me say, though we live in a state that must face the possibility of this type of extreme weather on a regular basis, there are times when these types of events form and hit faster than you can really react to them as the one yesterday showed us,” said Mr. Kitchens.

Rick and the children were out when the storm struck, while Jenn was in the middle of a shift as a manager at GCI corporate offices in Moore, some ten miles north.

The monstrous storm, which killed a confirmed 21 people and injured dozens, leveled the building where Jenn works, trapping her and many of her coworkers inside the storm shelter, which was the only portion of the building left standing when the winds subsided.

“To be quite honest, I was frustrated and terrified,” said Mr. Kitchens when asked about his feelings after he knew about the storm. “When I began tracking the path of the tornado and realized just how close it would get to my wife, I was almost petrified. I tried to call her, but the storm had already taken out most communications in the area. Internet, cell phones, land lines - all useless.”

Trapped below the piles of rubble and debris, she anxiously awaited rescue with many coworkers. However, concerns over potential gas leaks and ruptured gas lines held rescue efforts at bay for some time.

“I tried to get through to my son. There were no lines in or out, no information at all besides what I could see from the tv,” said Rabender.

After an hour filled with many tears, comforting words from family members and a constant fear, a text from Rick flooded her with relief. However, the fate of her daughter-in-law, Jenn, was still unknown.

“It was absolute. I have never experienced such fear in my life as when you see the devastation that a single storm can leave behind,” said Rabender.

For Jenn’s husband, the wait was much more drawn out.

“The tornado struck her area about 2:45 p.m. and it was almost 7:30 p.m. before she was able to contact me,” said Kitchen. “She had been desperately trying since the tornado hit.”

Just hearing her voice was all that Rick had longed for since the mid-afternoon, and after all the uncertainty, learning she was safe was near-undescribable.

“Elation. To hear her voice, steady, strong and determined. It was the most wonderful sound I have ever heard,” said Kitchen. “It was also a little nerve-wracking. She still had to make it through the 11 miles home to me, going through what can only be described as a war zone for the first mile of it.”

Late that night, Jenn was reunited with her husband and children with no serious injuries to speak of. Many were not as lucky.

Maps4News

The map above shows the path of the deadly storm that hit on Monday. This is the third major storm to hit the area in the last 15 years.

“One of the workers that is a good family friend - her children were in the plaza school that was destroyed, and they still have not found her children,” said Rabender, echoing the horror that has emanted from the area in the storm’s aftermath.

Rabender, the Executive Director of the Kimball-Banner County Chamber of Commerce, also saw the devastation of the 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, which was dwarfed by this weekend’s storm.

“I landed (there) just after it hit. I saw that devastation, and that was terrible. This is far worse than what that was then.”

Officials continued to search for victims in the rubble into Tuesday, as uncertainty lingered for many families across the area.

“I can’t even explain how I feel, besides saying the extreme relief that I feel that my family is okay. So many people have lost so much already, said Rabender.”

 

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