Lost and Found: 60-year Ward 5 family finds joy in what remains

Mar. 4—Teresa Hopkins-Elam's 60-year-old family farm along East Alameda Street and 60th Avenue NE was hit hard by Sunday night's tornado. But her family finds joy in the help they've received from the community and in what the storm left behind.

Home to goats, horses, and donkeys, the heaviest damage sustained on the farm was to 84-year-old matriarch Jean Hopkins' brick home. Daughter Teresa's home had most of its roof ripped off and several outbuildings destroyed.

The entire back half of Elam's partially collapsed home was ripped from the structure and rested on the ground near a well house that was obliterated. Close by, a large oak tree was upended and a much-loved treehouse for the family's grandchildren was smashed to pieces.

Twisted metal, a snapped utility pole and barns laid to waste is the view the family sees every morning.

Elam recalled the moment the tornado hit, a surprise to even those watching the weather report on TV.

The sirens blared just before it hit, she said.

"The front of my roof lifted up," she said. "There was insulation blowing around and I thought it was rain, but it wasn't raining.

"My son ran from the computer room and we sat down in the hall and he said, 'mom is this a tornado?'"

It was too late to grab a mattress and too late to check on her mother, Elam said.

"It was so fast, really fast," she said of the storm. "The sound? I'd describe it as 'I'm stuck under semi-truck going 100 miles per hour on a gravel road.'"

Despite a shelter outside Hopkins' home, she managed to seek shelter in a closet — the only portion of the home that was undamaged.

"My mom has arthritis so bad she can't bend her knees," Elam said. "She has a storm shelter, but didn't have time to get there. It has big steps and she was worried about that, and she wouldn't have made it."

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Elam went out to find neighbors Rarchar Tortorello, Gage Shaw and her nephew, Paul Goodchild, ready to help.

They dug out her goats, which were trapped under a collapsed barn.

Tortorello, a City Council member representing Ward 5, said he and other neighbors were happy to help anyone they could.

"I was on my way back to my house to check on my animals and I stopped by Teresa's because it was right in the path," he said. "They're like an anchor family out here, like the Hansmeyer's, the Elam's, the Walden's, the Bruehl's and the Argo's. They've been around for a long time. They're just good people. We always want to help, and they always want to help."

While Hopkins was happy no one was hurt, she regretted the loss of a horse, which had to be euthanized. Another survived with a badly damaged leg.

That which remains

Amid the carnage of Mother Nature's fury, Elam said loved ones were well and accounted for.

"There's just so many things to be thankful for in the midst of all this chaos," she said. "I know there were some injuries, but I don't think they were severe and that in and of itself is a miracle."

Little things that had not gone with the wind remained and moved her and her family to tears as they sorted through the wreckage.

After Elam's father died several years ago, the family cherished his well-worn cowboy hat.

"My son, we were out looking and trying to gather the donkeys and find the horses, but he came running in the back door and was yelling, 'look what I found, look what I found!' It almost makes me cry to talk about it," she said. "It was always hanging by the dining room table on a hat rack. There were hats he wore in parades and rodeos, but this was his everyday hat that he had on all the time. That's how I picture him, in his truck with arm out the window, with his hat on and his sunglasses."

Hopkins said the family has found something every day that survived, including souvenirs from her mother's employment at the University of Oklahoma and a candy-filled crystal dish, reserved for grandchildren, rested unmoved on an intact coffee table in her home.

Her mother worked for the football office and nearly each day something turns up, from Orange Bowl rings to OU jackets.

As she looked out over the land Friday afternoon, Hopkins said it was the first time her home was hit by a tornado, something she hopes to never endure again.

"I've loved thunderstorms my whole life," she said. "My kids and I used to sit out on the porch and watch the thunderstorms and the lightening show. Now, I see the dark side of the storm."