Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate your vehicle during the month of April or May and you'll be entered into a $500 Visa gift card drawing!

Okla. Family Must Rebuild Tornado-Damaged Home A Second Time


Authorities in Moore, Oklahoma say that 12,000 homes were damaged in Monday's tornado. In this next story, we're going to meet one family that was affected, and not for the first time. The Phillips lost their home in a tornado that hit Moore on May 3rd, 1999. They loved the community and bought another house two miles away, a house flattened by Monday's tornado.

Rachel Hubbard, of member station KOSU, toured what's left of their home to try to understand how a family can cope with such a loss twice.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Rena Phillips just knew Monday was going to be bad. She went to work that day but left early.

RENA PHILLIPS: And I had an uneasiness in my spirit all day.

HUBBARD: When that tiny speck of a storm popped up on radar, she went into action. She picked up her grandchildren at Briarwood Elementary. She put them in the storm shelter with a snack. Then, she pulled on her work boots and her favorite Moore T-shirt and went underground herself. Her husband, Paul, says they installed that storm shelter 18 months ago.

PAUL PHILLIPS: Tornados just seemed like they were getting bigger. And being here in Moore, it's like, come on, man, common sense.

HUBBARD: It's common sense, especially for a family that already lost one home to a tornado in this community. And now, they pick through the pieces again. We walk over toys and clothes mixed with shingles and insulation to get to the only part of the house left standing, a tiny interior hallway with blankets still in the cabinet. Rena points to a chart on the wall that she made for the grandkids.

PHILLIPS: They grow a little bit and they'd say, Mimi, mark me on the wall and see how tall I am. So each year I would put who it was, when I did it and how old they were.

HUBBARD: Rena is seeing this spot for the first time. Even with the sadness, the Phillips family finds joy in the odd things that survived both storms, things their kids hoped to never see again.

PHILLIPS: Was it the cowboy boots you saved, not the moccasins?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, it's the cowboy boots.


PHILLIPS: And a picture of Jason that you put on a piece of wood of him with the Easter bunny. And he wanted to throw it away when he seen it, man, because everyone was harassing him about it.

HUBBARD: It's emotional to say goodbye again to the physical reminders of memories. But the Phillips have a sense of joy. They're the sort of people that seem to define Oklahoma grit and that, and a pervasive faith in God, is why they say they're staying. They plan to rebuild in this very spot.

PHILLIPS: I ran last time. I'm not running again. It's like, why run? You know, I still have a little fear, but the thing is, God deals with it. He peels that onion layer off little by little, you know, says, okay, I need this. You want to give it to me or you want to deal with it a little longer, you know. So, yeah, we're not leaving.

HUBBARD: While other families on their block stare at the destruction almost unable to move, the Phillips already know what to do. They know the feelings that will inevitably come.

PHILLIPS: So far, seems so much easier. But I know there comes a time when you realize your favorite chair is gone, the place you like to go to be alone is gone. Normally, when that hits, that's when it gets hard. And to me, the last time, that was the harder part of it but I'm aware that it will happen.

HUBBARD: After going through this once, Paul and Rena say the time to salvage anything is limited because the rain and the heat will ruin it in a matter of hours. In 1999, it took more than a month for them to clean up. This time, they want to finish by the end of the week and start the next chapter. After all, the Phillips say, the only constant in life they know is change. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Hubbard is a 20-year news veteran and serves as KOSU's executive director.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.