It’s often said the true character of a person or a community stands out in times of adversity.
And in the early morning hours of April 15, 2012, true adversity returned to Woodward.
A community rebuilt from Oklahoma’s deadliest tornado in 1947 saw the devastation return when an EF3 tornado roared through its west side.
Four people died in Woodward proper and six overall in the tornado that left 87 homes and 13 businesses destroyed or with major damage and affected more than 200 homes and businesses altogether.
And while the west side of town was hit, everyone in the community felt the impact — either by knowing someone who died or was injured, or someone who lost virtually everything they owned.
In the hours and days after the tornado, though, the character of a community that has known tragedy, booms and busts, drought and other disasters, came flowing through.
Neighbors, volunteers, businesses, companies — everyone pitched in to start the recovery and rebuilding process almost immediately.
That character is the focus of the city of Woodward’s commemoration of the anniversary of the tornado.
On April 22, the city will host “Tornado Recovery Tribute: Recognizing a Community of Heroes,” starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Woodward Conference Center.
“Obviously, we want to commemorate the fact that our community was forever changed by the events of last April 15,” said City Manager Alan Riffel. “But it was a consensus in discussions I had with our city commissioners that any tribute regarding the tornado should be on the character of the community that pitched in to help with the recovery in so many ways.
“We never want to overshadow the tragic effects the tornado had on so many of our people. But the immediate reaction of how we deal with adversity in northwest Oklahoma is what made the greatest impression on people across the country.
“Woodward demonstrated to the world that no matter the level of disaster we face, we will respond together to lift each other up.”
The tribute event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend.
It will include remarks and recognitions, along with a presentation on the tornado and recovery.
The featured speaker will be Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a Northwest Oklahoma native from Enid.
There also will be some remarks from News 9 storm spotter Marty Logan, who tracked the storm as it hit Woodward, and from State Sen. Bryce Marlatt. State Insurance Commissioner John Doak will deliver some special proclamations, as well.
Other reports on the response, volunteerism and recovery cases also are part of the program.
“This tribute is simply the City celebrating the fact that Woodward is a genuine and caring community and to say ‘thank you’ to everyone involved no matter how they contributed,” Riffel said.
One part of the program includes Logan’s 91⁄2-minute audio trek with the tornado as it tore through his hometown.
Logan, a veteran storm tracker, had been part of the crews chasing tornadoes all day long on April 14, and like most everyone, he thought his evening was finished.
Until between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, when meteorologist Michael Armstrong at Channel 9 called him.
“He said there was tight circulation southwest of town headed to Woodward at 40 to 50 miles per hour,” Logan said,” and if a tornado drops, it will come right over Woodward.”
Logan, a former fire captain in Woodward, alerted the fire department and waited.
He then saw the power flashes and the tornado southwest of the technology center.
“Over the next 91⁄2 minutes, I think Gary (England) called me twice as it came through town.”
Otherwise on Channel 9, you heard Logan’s voice telling listeners the path of the tornado and warning people along the way as it followed it.
“You can hear the emotion in my voice,” Logan said. “I knew where it was headed and knew it wasn’t going to be good.”
Logan drove through debris along 34th Street and at one time was probably within 3⁄4 mile of the tornado. His antenna was hit by a power line and he could hear the horn honking from a car that flipped over.
As he turned onto Oklahoma Avenue, Logan ran across a person who was injured near the Bank 7 building.
“I grabbed him and asked if anyone was with him and I wasn’t leaving him, but someone ran up and said ‘I’ll take him,’ and took he and his mother to the hospital.”
Logan went back to tracking the storm, eventually working his way to the Cheyenne Drive area, where there was heavy damage.
There’s no way of telling how many people were alerted by his warnings as he tracked the tornado, but it likely was a good number.
“One person told me she had just downloaded the Channel 9 app and had it sitting on her lap when the thing went off,” Logan said. “She got her husband up and they had enough time to run to the cellar.
“Another one told me a person was listening to our live stream in California when it came across the screen and called someone here to let them know and wake them up.”
A few numbers and notes from the tornado:
• There were 32 injuries treated at the Woodward Regional Hospital in a little under 4 hours after the tornado hit. Seven people were admitted to the hospital and five were transferred to trauma centers or other hospitals.
Between staff, doctors and community volunteers, 98 people responded at the hospital alone during those early morning hours.
• The cleanup involved removing 41,000 cubic yards of debris from affected areas.
• Property losses still are a bit of an estimate with some insurance claims in process, but the latest estimate is $13.1 million — $8.9 million in residential structures, $2.8 million in businesses and $1.4 million in personal property.
• Over the first 12 hours after the tornado, about 12 law enforcement agencies, 23 fire/rescue entities, the Regional Ambulatory Strike Team, which involves a number of EMS agencies, and six emergency management agencies were on hand to assist. Emergency management estimates around 150 first responders on the ground during that period.
• Donations were received from across the nation with the Red Cross handling goods for individuals and emergency management most of the cleanup supplies.
• One interesting fact, said Matt Lehenbauer, Woodward Emergency Management director, is in the initial hours, some of the gloves and other supplies used originally had been donated during the landfill search for Logan Tucker several years ago. “We had cleaned and stored those donations in the event we ever needed them again,” he said. “Little did we know the future importance of keeping these donations.”
• Emergency management received some equipment from the state to help with future disasters, including two 5-ton military surplus trucks, three large generators, four small generators, a portable light tower, and two Humvee military surplus vehicles. Some of those were useful during the snowstorms in February.
• Donations didn’t just involve people or supplies. Lehenbauer said one big motivating factor helping emergency workers were the letters and posters received from children.
Six people died in the April 15 tornado:
• Derrin Juul, 41
• Rose Marie Juul, 10
• Steve “Mickey Mouse” Peil, 62
• Frank, “Skip” Hobbie, 26
• Faith Dean Hobbie, 7
• Kelly Marie Hobbie, 5
McMahan is editor of The Woodward News.