MOORE — Derrick Young could feel it.
Before even hearing the massive tornado that ripped through the walls, obliterated the windows and chewed through the Warren Theater in Moore where he works as a team member, Young said he could feel it. Huddled in the hallways with dozens of terrified moviegoers, Young felt the ground shake as the EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore made its way across the Warren plaza, leveling homes, offices and a bowling alley while crippling the theater and the Moore Medical Center.
“The warnings started popping up, and it didn’t last long before it hit,” the 20-year-old Oklahoma City native said. “We evacuated all the guests and we were crowded in both hallways standing shoulder to shoulder. Then everything started vibrating and shaking, and then you could hear just everything hitting the building.”
The tornado didn’t stop with the theater. It built in strength and continued to weave a path of destruction through Moore eerily similar to the May 3rd, 1999 tornado that leveled major parts of the city, killing 43 and causing more than a billion dollars in damage.
By the time the twister — which at its apex created a debris field two miles wide — finally lifted near Lake Stanley Draper, it had destroyed dozens of homes and business and killed at least 51 people, many of whom were children who were killed as the tornado passed through and destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School. It was a level of devastation not seen in Oklahoma in 14 years and one that will serve as the new benchmark of the terror severe storms can create.
Not that Young and his colleagues knew that as they emerged from the innards of the theater to find buildings ruined and cars and other debris wrapped around anything and everything in the tornado’s path. All they knew was a feeling of despair that didn’t abate as they wandered around the war zone that had once been a hospital parking lot.