Severe Weather Plan Is Critical Year-Round In Oklahoma
MANNFORD, Oklahoma - It's been almost 36 years.
On April 29 1984, an F-4 tornado cut a path of destruction through Creek County. Four churches were hit during Sunday services including Mannford's Assembly of God Church. People huddled together in the hallway, but Lauren Athens was waiting for his wife in the parking lot.
He died when the tornado lifted his pickup truck and swirled it through the air.
According to Senior Pastor Matthew Stidham, his parishioners still remember that deadly spring dayr.
"She relates to me she was trying to keep the kids calm, and the carpet begins to move from underneath their feet," Stidham said. "She actually got injured -- hit by a piece of debris."
The church was rebuilt, and today volunteers work to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.
"If it's a Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, they're in the back room keeping in contact with what's taking place," said Stidham.
If there is a tornado warning, Stidham said it takes less than 10 minutes to get everyone out of the church and into the basement. He said they would cancel services with enough warning.
An EF-1 tornado damaged Norman's Riverwind Casino in 2017. No one was hurt, but it again reinforces that places where large amounts of people go need a severe weather plan. At the Hard Rock Casino, the Cherokee Nation also uses refuge areas when severe weather threatens. In the event the decision is made to evacuate, alerts sound and "push teams" begin directing people to the refuge areas.
"We do shut the machines down, so they're not going to be able to game. We do everything we can to make it the right thing to do for them," said Joe Washum, Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokee Nation is also taking safety a step further by installing FEMA rated safe rooms in their facilities. But Oklahoma businesses are not required to have a safe room or shelter, so ultimately people have to take responsibility for their own safety.