A former Batesville resident who lives in Moore, Okla., had a firsthand look at the devastation left by a tornado that hit the area May 20.
Melissa Dashiell, daughter of Carol and Robert Prickel and the late Jerome Dwenger, lives there with her husband Daniel, an Air Force sergeant, and their children, Chase, 8, and Olivia, 6. She recalls, “It was a beautiful morning. Olivia and I had just come back from the library, and I said, ‘We have to turn on the weather.’ It said in 25 minutes, the storm would be in Oklahoma.
“We went immediately to the school (nearby Plaza Towers Elementary School), which wasn’t in tornado procedures yet, and picked up Chase. Then it started raining really big raindrops. I pulled into the garage and got into the house, grabbed some clothes, medicine and phone chargers. I got a text message (from authorities) that said, ‘Take shelter now.’ The sirens went off, and we went into the shelter in the garage.”
The mother revealed prior to this her husband had bought a steel shelter that seats six persons. A hole was cut in the garage floor so it could be placed in there below ground, with the lid even with the garage floor.
“The kids, our German shepherd and I went into the shelter and pulled the door shut. There are vent holes to see into the garage. I heard banging on the garage door and came back out to see who it was,” she recalls.
“My neighbor, Cleatha, asked if she could come in. She did, and we closed the door again. The kids turned on the shelter lights, and we started singing the ‘Oscar Mayer Weiner’ song .... The lights went out and we started hearing stuff being thrown into the garage, so we started singing louder. My son described it as ‘God pushed a really big lawnmower over our house and let it sit there.’
“Insulation started blowing in through the vent. We huddled together, and I was yelling, ‘Close your eyes.’ According to the news, the tornado hovered over our house for three minutes. Then everything got really quiet. You couldn’t hear anything. The kids wondered if our house was gone.
“I tried to call Dan, and it wouldn’t go through. Tornadoes went through the day before, and he was helping others clean up their properties.”
When her husband was able to get into their housing subdivision, “he parked across from where the school gym used to be and ran to where our house had stood. He called to us in the shelter and asked, ‘Do you have Chase?’ I said yes, and he got the debris off the structure so we could get out.”
“He left me with the truck, the kids and the dog and told us to stay put. He helped dig out like 12 people from under the debris nearby.”
He checked on a 90-year-old couple who lived next door. “They were home, but didn’t make it to their shelter, but they were alive. They clung onto a metal lawn chair that kept the house from collapsing on them.
“Dan went over to help at the school. People were digging by one wall, and he wondered why they weren’t looking in another location. Then he saw two little girls huddled together in the position you take to protect yourselves from a tornado. They had died. Just then the fire trucks pulled up and he came back over to us.”
Later, the Dashiells were able to salvage some personal belongings, including various files, pictures from her childhood, toys, clothes and a safe that contained Social Security cards and birth certificates.
“My dad is deceased, and I had a picture of him by my TV. We found that. It was a little wet, but it can be dried off.”
In the immediate future, the family will be staying in a friend’s apartment. “We were told a hundred families had gone to (the Air Force) base asking for housing. We weren’t going to go there at first, but then did, and they had a house for us.”
Dashiell believes her family was very lucky. “We have friends who lost their children .... It hasn’t sunk in for Chase, but he did say the little girl in his class that died was very nice.”
She admits, “We’re always the ones that are doing things for others, so it’s very humbling to have to get help from other people. Thank you for all your prayers and the support, and keep praying for mental healing. Donations to the Red Cross for our neighbors would be greatly appreciated. As we look at our neighborhood, the outpouring of love across the community and country with people reaching out is just amazing.”