The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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August 18, 2013

Moore band director looks back on deadly EF-5 twister

OKLAHOMA CITY — Angie Taylor taps the sunflower icon on her iPhone.

Taylor pulls up an image of a map with an overlay of blue, green and red lines marking the paths through Moore of an F-5 in 1999, F-4 in 2003 and EF-5 tornado this year. Three of the white dots mark how close those tornadoes came to where Taylor lived at that time.

A fourth white dot, located under the word “Moore,” sits right on the red line.

It’s the reason Taylor, band director at Highland East Junior High since 1998-99, pulled her white SUV into the school parking lot most days this summer.

The school sustained some damage and the gym was destroyed. Classes were dismissed in the district for the remainder of the school year. But Taylor kept showing up.

For some, closeness can be measured in ways other than physical proximity.

Sometimes it’s an emotional measurement.

Even though where she lives now is in what was the path of the May 3, 1999, storm, the tornadoes Taylor has mapped out on her phone missed her home by anywhere from about the length of a football field to a mile and a half.

And she was at the funeral of the parent of a former band member on May 20 when the EF-5 struck Highland East.

But emotionally, Taylor, like so many residents of Moore and other communities affected by tornadoes, took a direct hit.

“In ’99, we had several students affected,” Taylor told The Oklahoman. “That’s probably the first thing that made me feel like a grown-up, that I needed to go take care of some students. I was 28. I didn’t have children and the first thing I thought was, ‘There are some kids that are going to need some help, and I’m going to have to take care of them.’

“Right away, we took the money from the band fund here and we got our principal’s approval and we just went and bought school supplies and things the kids were going to need to finish the year.”

This year, on May 20, she left school at about 2:20 p.m. to go to the funeral. The service was interrupted by police, who asked those attending to go to the hallways, she said. They remained safe, but when she walked out, she began to hear about the tornado and soon saw the devastation.

She drove as far as possible and then began running, not toward her house, but toward Highland East.

School officials and staff already had children lined up waiting for their parents to pick them up when Taylor arrived. There were no injuries to students. Administrators, of the district and the school, as well as teachers, later led the remaining children to Moore High School for pickup.

“At 10 o’clock that night, there were still four or five kids there,” said Taylor who was among those who had gone to the high school. “We thought their parents were either trapped or worse.

“That was the low point, not knowing if those kids were going to have parents at the end of the day.”

There were adults from the district and the school who stayed with those students. Eventually, they were taken to another site. But each was picked up and their parents were safe, Taylor said.

“The school leaders ... there are no words for what they did that day,” she said. “We have outstanding city and school leaders, who instantly do whatever is needed. That was evident after the ’99 tornado and the others.”

Painter writes for The Oklahoman.

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