Mannford Church Remembers Twister 25 Years Later

Sunday, April 26th 2009, 5:42 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

MANNFORD, OK -- Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of a deadly tornado that ripped through the town of Mannford.

The twister touched down while most churches were in the middle of Sunday services. The Mannford Assembly of God has just begun its morning service when an EF-4 tornado rolled right through the building.

Members survived anyway they could, hiding under pews and in bathroom stalls.

Twenty-five years later, members say that twister forever altered the future of their church.

"I remember the appearance of the storm as it approached that morning, a big black cloud," said Don Couch, former church pastor. "And the closer it got, the bigger it got."

Mannford was nearly wiped out. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by the tornado's 200 mph winds.

"One of the sounds that I remember is the sound of lumber just ripping to shreds," Couch said.

Dozens of people were injured. Half of the Mannford Assembly of God church was ripped apart, and a worshipper was killed in the parking lot.

But the building still stood.

"We were fearful, yes, but we were praying," Memie Osborn said.

At 90 years old, Osborn is the church's oldest member. She survived by hiding underneath a pew, lying on top of her 4-year-old grandson to protect him from falling glass.

"If I had been that much fatter, heavier, I wouldn't have fit under there, with my laying on top of him," she said.

Dozens of survivors returned for a service Sunday. Some are still church members, while some have moved on, including the pastor at the time, who returned to deliver a special message.

"The fact that in spite of it all, we survived, that God was with us, the church did not fall apart, it became stronger," Couch said.

Osborn has helped usher in a new generation of worshippers, and says she's one lucky woman.

"It was just the Lord," she said. "It was a miracle."

Sunday morning's commemoration service began at the same time the tornado hit the church 25 years ago.

More than 200 people attended the worship and listened to speeches about the damage.

Sunday also marks the 25th anniversary of another deadly tornado in Oklahoma. In 1984 a F-3 twister slammed the town of Morris just southeast of Okmulgee.

Eight people were killed, and records show that nearly 70 percent of the town was damaged or destroyed by the storm. The total cost to rebuild was more than $9 million.