McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

November 20, 2013

First responders relive harrowing day

NORMAN — As the holiday season approaches and thoughts of food and family are on many people’s minds, it’s almost hard to believe there was so much chaos and heartbreak in Moore just six months ago. But the city continues to push on.

“The progress is amazing to me,” said Moore police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis. “I mean you have numerous homes that people are back in already.”

Lewis and about 19 other Moore officers, including detectives and school officers, were on duty when the storm struck. Some were just blocks away as the tornado ripped through the heart of the city, basically cutting it in half.

“At that point officers do their best to try to stay out of the way, but stay as close as possible to the area that it’s going to hit,” he said.

There’s not really a protocol on how to survive a storm in a patrol car, but on May 20 many officers left the city because the tornado was so large, staying on the north and south sides of Moore.

“We were just trying to outrun it and then get right back to the city,” Lewis said. “Once the storm passed, guys just went into search and rescue mode.”

Shortly after the storm, the entire Moore Police Department, about 81 officers at the time, showed up along with many other agencies. Lewis said they had an influx of agencies coming in.

Deputy Steven Swinford with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office was one of those who responded immediately. Swinford was on his way back from a law enforcement class in Ada and in Noble around the time the tornado hit. He was at Plaza Towers Elementary school within 20 to 30 minutes following the devastation.

“Whenever you see it you just kind of get that sick feeling because you know what it’s fixin to do — a tornado that large,” Swinford said.

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