'Shaking Like A Leaf': Claremore Man, 81, Survives Tornado While Sheltering In Bathroom

Harold Gillis, 81, has lived alone since his wife Helen passed away in 2018 and was on the phone with his son during the storm on Saturday.

Sunday, May 26th 2024, 11:20 pm



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The tornado that hit Claremore injured more than 20 people, with three of them having serious injuries, authorities report.

Tornado debris goes on as far as the eye can see in neighborhoods east of Claremore, with nearly every home facing some kind of havoc on Honeysuckle Lane.

Harold Gillis, 81, has lived alone since his wife Helen passed away in 2018 and was on the phone with his son during the storm on Saturday.

“I was standing at the back door listening and looking to see if anything was going on. And about 11:25, 11:26, something like that, it got real quiet out here. There was nothing. No wind. No anything," Gillis said.

That's when he decided to seek shelter in his bathroom.

Within two minutes, he said the tornado came and went.

“In that few minutes while it’s going on, you’re shaking like a leaf. And I was. I was trembling during that time. But you look out and see that you’re still alive and things get better right quick," he said.

With part of his roof torn off, he can't stay at his home anymore and Harold said he'll wait for insurance before he decides if he'll try to rebuild.

At the Rogers County Election Board, shattered glass covers the floor, and so do sample ballots.

It’s the real ballots for an upcoming June election that Secretary Julie Dermody was worried about.

She came to the election board as soon as the storm passed and stayed there until 3 a.m. when the doors were boarded up.

"My biggest concern was to make sure that we kept the ballots secure and we kept the machines secure, which we did," Julie said.

Also secure are handwritten voter registration records that are more than 100 years old.

Dermody doesn't know yet if the next election will take place there, or somewhere else.

“It’s nothing that’s not fixable. There’s nobody here at the time, so that’s a positive," said said.

The Red Cross has a shelter open in town for those with nowhere else to go.

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Original story below...

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The City is under a curfew on Sunday that begins at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. Monday.

Officials provided an update at 3 p.m. on the latest damage reports and recovery efforts.

Osage SkyNews 6 surveyed the damage overhead on Sunday, seeing damage to homes and destroyed buildings.

City Manager John Feary said there are three people in the hospital with possibly, life-threatening injuries at the presser.

There are 16 others in the hospital recovering with a total of 23 people injured from the storm, Feary said.

Right now, the City of Claremore is without power and two hospitals are running on generators.

Feary said he's confident the hospitals will have power by Sunday's end.

No other utilities are affected right now, with water and sewage systems operating as normal.

The City said it does not have a designated spot for debris, but it is working on a debris removal plan and should have more information on Monday.

Feary described seeing the damage from a chopper on Sunday:

"Seeing that damage from above out west, here in town, out east, certainly here in town, significant, significant damage," Feary said. "Things and damage that change people’s lives forever. So we would just all ask that you continue to pray for these folks. We’re gonna work it through with them. Walk this journey with them.”

The biggest message from the city and county is to not come into town looking to help with any food or clothes just yet.

Anything involving logistics will only put more stress on first responders and the city. They said they will let people know when it's time for donations and volunteers.

For more News On 6 coverage on the May 25 storms in Claremore and surrounding areas, CLICK HERE.

Related: Claremore Officials Provide Update On Severe Weather Impacts In The City

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Original story below...

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A tornado caused widespread damage in Claremore late Saturday night into Sunday. First responders are in the process of fully assessing the damage, which includes downed trees, power lines and damage to homes and buildings, officials said.

As of 3 p.m. on Sunday, there are 23 reported injuries, with 19 hospitalized and three with life-threatening injuries, according to Claremore City manager John Feary.

The entire town is without power, but no other utilities including water and sanitation, have been impacted.

Claremore residents can find updates on the weather HERE. Residents can also report damage at the link HERE

City officials said most of the roadways are back open as of noon. A curfew is in place between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

As of now, the primary concern is safety regarding heat and humidity for residents without power.

Officials said they expect hospitals to have power again by the end of Sunday but are still on generation power as of 3 p.m.

When will the roads be fully opened in Claremore?

City officials said roads into Claremore will remain closed until noon as public responders assess the damage and secure any areas that pose safety risks. After noon, only residents with an I.D. will be allowed to enter the City until further notice.

Is there shelter available for people impacted by severe weather in Claremore?

The Red Cross has established a respite and resource center at Memorial Heights Baptist Church (1500 W. Will Rogers Blvd), officials said.

Mobile units are also delivering food and water, and cleanup kits such as shovels, rakes, tarps, and brooms to assist those affected, officials said. The public can call 800-Red-Cross to request services.

When will power be restored in Claremore?

Power is out across the entire city of Claremore due to the impact on all four substations and crews are onsite working to repair the damage, according to officials.

There is also no fuel available in Claremore. Those who need fuel will need to access from surrounding cities.

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