MOORE, Okla. —
Their reality changed. Their clothes were gone. Their banking information — gone. Beds, toys, cars, jewelry, pictures and so much more all wet, torn, obliterated, ruined.
Like so many families who suffered and lost on May 20, 2013, the Kriesels walked away from their home only with each other. And yet, joyously, they reflected that they did, in fact, walk away together and uninjured.
Without a storm shelter, Nathan and Amber Kriesel and their daughters Kaley, 7, and 5-year old twins Zoe and Sophie, survived the tornado that tore through Moore. A year later, the Kriesel family said they have a new support system of friends who also survived the tornado and that they could never go back to who they were before their home was destroyed.
“We’re changed. I wish people hadn’t lost their lives or their homes. But I can’t look back. We’re completely different since the tornado,” Amber said.
God is in the details, said the Kriesels, who said their story begins the day before the tornado. With reports of possible bad weather on May 19, 2013, Nathan and Amber discussed what they would do if they had to take shelter at their home during a tornado. The family got out helmets Amber’s mother had given them for such an event, and they all practiced taking shelter in the bathroom with the three girls in the bathtub and a mattress on top of them.
With a plan in place, Nathan went to work as usual the next day; Kaley went to half-day kindergarten at Plaza Towers Elementary; and Amber stayed at home with the twins while keeping an eye on the weather.
After picking up Kaley from kindergarten before lunch time, Amber said she increasingly felt more and more nervous as bad weather loomed. Later in the afternoon, after speaking with her father and sister, she said she prayed and went into “take care of business” mode — putting on comfortable shoes, getting the girls’ LeapPads for entertainment while they waited out the storm and placing the mattress in the bathroom.
“Passing my mirror, I had this moment with myself where I thought, ‘Is today going to be like every other, or will today be different?’” she said.
As Amber stuck to the family’s plan and took shelter in the bathroom, Nathan banged on the front door. He had been released from work and instead of going to Moore Medical Center with some of his work buddies, headed home, too. The front door was locked, and Amber was surprised to hear Nathan at the door. Once Nathan was inside, he joined the family in their bathroom. As the tornado approached, Nathan and Amber spoke with Amber’s sister on the phone, and Nathan comforted the family by recounting Scripture.
“I spoke to the girls about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were put through the fiery furnace, and trusted in God and told them that we might have to go through the fiery furnace, but that the Lord is with us,” Nathan said.
“‘It’s here.’ That’s the last thing I said to my sister Jessica before we lost the connection,” Amber said. “It was so loud. We were screaming, praying, but we couldn’t hear our own voices. The crashing and banging, it’s hard to describe. It was horrific.”
Nathan said they all continued to call out “Lord Jesus.”
“Only God could hear us because we could no longer hear each other,” he said.
Then the Kriesels’ bathroom went from complete darkness to light as the walls and roof of their home were whisked away by the storm. Nathan said he opened his eyes for a brief moment and looked at the tornado, but had to immediately shut his eyes because of the intensity of wind and amount of debris.
“I kept thinking, ‘Hold on just a little longer, hold tighter and it will pass,’ but then the side of the tub caved in. There was so much pressure, and the whole tub turned. It was terrifying,” Amber said.
Fear held onto the Kreisels as tightly as they held onto each other. But almost as quickly as the tub moved, everything stopped. The rain continued to fall and the tornado sirens blared, but the tornado had continued on and was no longer on top of the Kreisels’ neighborhood. For a split second, Amber said she thought the worst for Zoe when she didn’t move, afraid she had suffocated.
“Praise God, Zoe lifted her head and looked up at me,” she said.
Then Amber said she wasn’t sure what she should do. In shock, she wondered if it was really safe and if her family could move.
Trying to orient themselves, Nathan said he got up and stepped into his “kitchen.” Without walls, what used to be the Kreisels’ home now was complete destruction. Nathan described seeing his surroundings as a war zone.
“The first thing I noticed about our side of the street — it was leveled, nothing was recognizable — there were no bathtubs, not one,” Amber said.
Yet at the Kreisels’ home, only the bathtub, which the Kreisels now call their ark — after Noah’s Ark — and toilet remained attached to the house.
All four of the family’s vehicles were scattered in different directions, littered among the other destruction. Nathan noticed his Blazer, which had been parked in the garage, was across the street in front of Moore Medical Center.
“The hospital looked liked the Murrah Building,” he said.
The family walked north toward Amber’s parent’s home. When they were close to the 7-Eleven, where several people died, someone told them they wouldn’t want to go that way. Kaley, Zoe and Sophie were in shock, while Nathan and Amber began to feel the physical effects of the storm.
Amber had been hit hard by a large object during the tornado, and Nathan suffered from pain in his ribs.
As they walked, the loss of all their belongings began to set in.
“I realized and thought, ‘the helmets and LeapPads, this is everything we have,’” Amber said, to which Nathan added, “I had lost everything I worked my whole life for in about three minutes.”
Emotionally, it was most difficult not to know what had happened to their parents and other family members as they walked among the wreckage, Amber said. It wasn’t until about half an hour after the tornado that they were able to reach Jessica by phone.
“We had this moment, and looking at Nathan without saying anything, we both thought we had everything we needed,” Amber said. “I lost it all and walked away with everything.”
After May 20, amazing acts of kindness poured in. Amber said all of their needs were met by individuals and churches.
“The giving of strangers has been as overwhelming as the storm,” Amber said. “Our every need has been met.”
One stranger found a locket that Nathan had given Amber. Another person, who lives in Tulsa, found a sonogram picture of Zoe and Sophie in his backyard and was able to return it to the Kriesels.
The aftermath of the tornado has been somewhat difficult for Zoe, Sophie and Kaley. Loud noises like trucks, wind and thunderstorms scare them. Amber described one instance during a trip to MidFirst Bank, when it began raining suddenly and her daughters began to cry and become emotionally upset.
“They’ve come a long way, though. We all have,” she said.
Since the tornado, the family still has its moments of sadness. Amber said she sometimes struggles with guilt, knowing families who lost children in the tornado.
“The Lord really took care of us. Sometimes, I have flashbacks and think, ‘How are we alive? How did we not get hurt?’ The girls didn’t have one scratch. The tears come at the weirdest times,” Amber said.
Touched by the help and love they have received, Nathan and Amber traveled to Brookport, Ill., in November to help victims of a devastating tornado there. Nathan and Amber said they want to share their experience to give glory to God and encourage others who may have suffered last year.
“We’re here for a reason. Our prayers were answered. We have a testimony,” Nathan said.
Parker writes for The Norman Transcript.