One year later…
By Ray Dyer
The evening of May 31, 2013 was a long one. A few days after a tornado ripped through Moore, another swept through portions of Canadian County and yet another seemed headed straight for Mustang.
While the city was spared a direct hit, scores of Mustang residents took to their cars in an effort to outrun the storm, something officials said is the worst move anyone could make. In western Canadian County, that lesson hit home in the worst of ways, with nine people losing their lives. All of them were killed in vehicles.
Like most, those nine probably woke up that morning not expecting it to be the day they would draw their last breath on this earth.
“We got to go home that night,” said Bill Barnhart of OKC West. The livestock sale business that has been a fixture on state Highway 66 for more than two decades was wiped out by the tornado. It has since rebuilt. Across the road, the same thing happened to the Canadian Valley Technology Center. Construction on a new school on the same site is beginning.
Miraculously, no was killed at those sites, or at any of the dozens of homes that were destroyed by what would later be classified as the world’s widest recorded tornado.
The tornado first touched down at 6:03 p.m. southwest of El Reno, demolishing houses south of El Reno Municipal Airpark as it traveled what would eventually be 16.2 miles., ending at 6:43 p.m.
As the storm developed to the west, Oklahoma City television meteorologists warned “those living in El Reno to get below-ground.”
National Geographic would feature the “El Reno Tornado” in its November issue. The monster twister was recorded as being 2.6 miles wide.
All nine victims of the tornado died in vehicles – some purposely chasing the twister, caught by surprise as it suddenly turned, making the chasers the chased. Others were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The wrong place in Canadian County was either on Interstate 40 or on or near U.S. Highway 81. Those killed were 67-year-old William Rose O’Neal, a retired federal prison counselor from El Reno; Hinton rancher and truck driver Richard Charles Henderson, 35; Maria Pol Martin, 26, and her 1-year-old son, Rey Chicoj Pol, also of Hinton; Wilburton oil field equipment manager Dustin Heath Bridges, 32; and three professional storm chasers – 55-year-old Timothy Samaras and his son, Paul Samaras, 24, both of Bennett, Colo., and their partner, Carl Richard Young, 45, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
The storm caused extensive damage to roofs, windows and vehicles in the core of El Reno, but because the path moved south of the more populated area, lives were undoubtedly spared.
“It makes me get cold chills thinking about what would have happened if it had moved through town on the path it first started,” said City Manager Tony Rivera. “We were certainly blessed.”