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Survivors in hard-hit Oklahoma town: 'We are truly blessed'

From Rob Marciano, CNN
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Mon April 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Lord and his family survive after a tornado tears through his home
  • "God saved us, and that's what it's about," says the Woodward, Oklahoma, resident
  • Five people in Woodward were killed in the same storm
  • Oklahoma's governor says it is "remarkable" the death toll there wasn't higher

Woodward, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Paul Lord's home is a shambles, and a large bandage is draped across his head -- not from four previous brain surgeries he had endured but from the plywood that smacked him, while he was outside trying to warn a family across the street about a coming tornado.

And yet Sunday, the Woodward, Oklahoma, resident was all about giving thanks.

Thankful for the neighbors who, after the twister slammed through his and other homes, had rushed over and picked up the washer and driver sitting atop his grandson. Another grandson had been blown away from the house, only to be found with two big cuts on his arm.

Lord also expressed appreciation for staff at Woodward Regional Hospital who, he said, had treated him and his family with a minimum of paperwork and maximum of caring and expertise.

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And lastly, he gestured to those working feverishly behind him -- some of them neighbors, some strangers -- to clear the rubble.

"We are truly blessed. God saved us, and that's what it's about," Lord said.

Following an earlier bout of severe weather, the tornado barreled through Woodward just after midnight Sunday. Compounding the fact it struck at such a late hour, the high winds "took out" the transmitter for the public siren and tornado notification system, and "we lost our manual override" when the electricity was knocked out, City Manager Alan Riffel said -- meaning there was no warning system.

"It caught us asleep, mostly," Mayor Roscoe Hill told CNN.

Afterward, it was learned that five people in Woodward -- a community of about 12,000 people about 85 miles west of Enid and not far from the Panhandle -- had died as a result. While the powerful system hit a hospital, blew truckers off highways and shredded buildings in several states, Woodward was the only place where fatalities were reported over the weekend.

They include Frank Hobbie, who died along with two girls -- presumed to be his 5- and 7-year-old daughters -- according to state medical examiner's spokesman Amy Elliot. Hill earlier said that a father and his two children were inside a trailer at the Hidden Valley Mobile Home Park when the tornado rolled through and killed them.

Elliot identified one of the other dead as Derrin Juul. A 10-year-old girl who was found with him is thought to be Juul's daughter. Hill had said that two people died when the car they were in rolled over several times.

Still, given the power and timing of the storm, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said late Sunday afternoon that she believes it is "remarkable that we didn't have more loss of life in Woodward."

Fallin detailed some survival stories from the small city.

One man was lying asleep on his sofa, with his dog beside him, when the tornado came through, Fallin said. The intense winds picked up him and his sofa and dumped him behind his house. But except for some scrapes, he escaped unscathed.

The governor also recalled how a woman described hunkering down with her family, wrapping her arms around her pregnant daughter, as the twister approached.

Afterward, the daughter was rushed to a nearby hospital where her baby was delivered, safely by cesarean section, according to Fallin.

Lord was a survivor long before this weekend's storms, having undergone two heart procedures in addition to his four brain surgeries. His latest wound, a big gash to his head, was stitched back up early Sunday. He said he did not initially notice it, as he rushed to get his grandson to the hospital even before he'd located his wife of 43 years.

Hours later, Lord was back where his home once stood. People young and old were working hard nearby, tossing debris, cutting through wood with chainsaws and otherwise trying to bring order to the chaos caused by the tornado.

"This is Woodward, Oklahoma," said Lord. "We're here to take care of each other ... We're truly blessed in so many ways, and one of them is to live here."

As to what what treasured mementos he hopes to find among the wreckage, Lord said he already had everything he needed.

"I found them. My son, my daughter, my son-in-law, my grandbabies, my wife," he said. "Everything else is brick and stick, and they're all easily replaced."

CNN's Rich Phillips and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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