Oologah Residents Remember Devastating Tornado 20 Years Later

Tuesday, April 26th 2011, 5:03 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

OOLOGAH, Oklahoma -- Oklahoma's 2011 tornado season made a deadly debut, but some people in Green Country are remembering another devastating storm.

Not for the lives lost, but for the lives saved.

In Oologah, there aren't many signs of what happened 20 years ago, other than a display at the museum. But few have forgotten April 26th, 1991.

April 26, 2011 Tornado Pictures

"Kind of turned north east. And the rest is history. It just cut a massive swath," John Bussey said.

An F-4 tornado left a path of destruction. Dozens of homes were leveled. John Bussey's was one of them.

"You hear the stories, you're standing here with nothing but the clothes on your back. That's true. That is true," he said.

Oologah's school also took a direct hit. Current Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard, was the head of Oologah schools back then.

"There's a lot of pride in this community. We will do it, we will rebuild it, it looks impossible, but we will do it," Ballard said at the time.

That recovery came with hard work. That's one of the things John Wylie with the Oologah Lake Leader was proud of in the storms' aftermath.

"We lost our school, we lost houses, we lost businesses and everybody pulled together and we came back together," Wylie said.

Wylie and many others credit a new piece of technology at the time that made its debut on Channel 6 that very night with saving lives: Pathfinder and Jim Giles gave an exact time the storm would hit.

11/21/2006 Related Story: Oklahoma Tornado Survivor Thanks God And Jim Giles

"We had almost 40 minutes of warning that this thing was coming, so we had no fatalities and that was a real miracle," Wylie said.

Pathfinder gave people time to seek safety. John Bussey heeded the warning and went to a friend's basement.

"Really unbelievable. It's still unbelievable," he said.

Although there aren't many signs of the tornado other than at the museum, there are many memories of a moment in time, forever etched in Oologah's history.

"It seems like the day before yesterday," Bussey said.

The state of Oklahoma even declared a "Pathfinder Day" on April 26th, 1996, in honor of the technology and the lives saved 20 years ago. That proclamation is also on display at the Historical Society Museum in Oologah.