Couple Who Perished In Tornado 'Just Good Country People'

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 10:37 pm
By: News On 6

ELMWOOD, Okla. (AP) Danny Finley stood on the porch of his home on the wide-open plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle -- where one can see for miles and miles -- and saw a tornado heading toward a neighbor's house.

"It looked like it was a quarter-mile wide," said Finley, who immediately headed over to Vance and Barbra Woodbury's house to see if he could help.

But soon after the storm struck Wednesday night, the rancher learned he was too late. The Woodbury’s were among at least four people -- including one in Colorado and one in Texas -- who died in the storms.

Keli Tarp, a spokeswoman for the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said the Woodbury’s were the first tornado fatalities in Oklahoma since April 2001.

By Thursday morning, Finley was one of at least 50 people scattered across the Woodburys' ranchland, helping repair blown-down barbed-wire fences and pick up debris as the family tried to salvage what it could.

"They were just good country people," Finley said of the Woodbury’s. "Good neighbors. He had some cattle here and he kept all of our roads up."

About 6,000 people live in Beaver County, located about 220 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. People from surrounding towns -- some with only tangential relationships to the Woodbury’s – drove out to their farm Thursday to see what they could do to help.

"That's just what people in these parts do," said Cody Karber, a 28-year-old volunteer firefighter from nearby Balko who went to school with some of the Woodburys' children.

Across a country road from the house, an Auburn University pillow sat, propped up against a fencepost. A number of $2 bills were found a treeline. In a nearby field lay part of a bible, blown open to Genesis 1:14, part of the story of creation.

"We found the cover to that a mile north of here," Finley said.

Beaver County Sheriff Reuben Parker Jr. -- who lives a half-mile from where the Woodburys' house once sat -- said the Woodbury family didn't want to talk Thursday, and by mid-afternoon, a no-trespassing sign had been posted on the dirt driveway leading to the house.

"I think they're in awe with the situation," Karber said. "It's not a good feeling."

There are no other homes, much less tornado sirens, within view of the Woodburys' house. Parker said that authorities made at least 10 phone calls to the Woodbury house in an attempt to warn them as the tornado approached from the south, but all of them went unanswered.

"We just didn't think anyone was home," Parker said. "I think we did all we could do."

Parker said Vance Woodbury worked as a road grader operator for Beaver County, while Barbra Woodbury operated a home business and also cleaned houses. The couple kept cattle and chickens on their ranch, and Parker said of the chickens -- blown hundreds of yards by the storm -- returned to the site of the house.

Finley said most of the Woodburys' cattle ended up on his land, and that he'd care for the animals.

"They've got enough problems without worrying about that," Finley said of the couple's family.

The couple's son, Curtis Parker, is serving in the military in Afghanistan. He has been notified and was traveling home.

Parker said the tornado also destroyed some outbuildings and knocked down power and phone lines, and it just missed a natural gas plant a few miles south of the Woodburys' house.

Duck Pond Creek, which locals say is usually mostly dry, was filled and gushing with water on Thursday afternoon, and along U.S. Highway 270, numerous electric-line poles had fallen, and crews worked to repair that damage.

In the Texas Panhandle, Monte Ford, 53, of Elk City, Okla., died Wednesday evening when he was thrown from a trailer when it rolled from high winds in a Hemphill County oilfield, authorities said. He was an employee of Houston-based Express Energy Services.

There were at least 65 tornado reports Wednesday in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service.

In the small eastern Colorado town of Holly, a tornado as wide as two football fields killed one person and injured at least 10, authorities said.

The same storm system had dumped snow on Wyoming, where a school bus carrying 36 students from Tongue River High School to a competition in Cheyenne collided with two minivans on Interstate 90 Wednesday, school officials said.

Soon after that crash, another pileup started nearby involving several passenger vehicles and seven big rigs, two of which were hauling diesel fuel. One of the diesel haulers rolled over, and authorities said the other leaked around 1,000 gallons of fuel. No one on the bus was hurt, but four other people were taken to a hospital, Wyoming Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Stephen Townsend said.

Meanwhile, Oklahomans were bracing Thursday for another batch of severe weather, although tornado danger was decreasing.

By late afternoon, thunderstorms could fire up across much of the state.

"I'm not sure it's going to rival what we saw yesterday; the threat isn't as great," said Ray Sondag, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa.

To see tornado video shot by WARN 6 and WARN 9 storm chasers Marty Logan and Val Castor, click here.

Related Stories:

3/29/2007 Child Injured In Tornado

3/29/2007 One Oklahoman Killed, Two Injured In Texas Tornado

For SkyNews 9 video of the damage click here.

More Eclips:

03/28/07 Raw Video Of Wednesday’s Tornadoes

03/29/07 Oklahoma's First Tornado

03/29/07 Tornado Season Spins Up In Oklahoma