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Oklahoma bands together after deadly tornado

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
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Todd Nelson with Bob Stauffer on Oilers NOW | Alex Plante with Dan Tencer on Inside Sports

Mere hours after the Oklahoma City Barons left practice at the Blazers Ice Center in Moore, Okla., a mile-wide tornado ravaged the community less than a half-mile south, leaving at least 24 dead, hundreds homeless and countless others in need of treatment at local hospitals.

"It was a real somber day for everyone," said Barons captain Josh Green, who lives in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, where a number of players call home, 30 minutes north of Moore. "We practiced at 10:15 and came home right after. We had storms the previous day and knew more were on the way, so we huddled up in front of the TV and watched it all unfold.

"It started out pretty small and you could see the hook on it. The TV coverage was incredible. They can pinpoint everything to where it's going to hit and how big it's going to be, but I don't think anyone expected it to get so big, so fast. Watching all on TV and seeing all the damage it was causing as it was happening, it was devastating."

Packing wind speeds near 320km/h, the F-4 tornado (which could still be upgraded to an F-5) caused devastating damage. Homes, local businesses and the Plaza Towers Elementary School were delivered a direct hit, turning a once densely populated area into an unrecognizable pile of matchsticks, twisted metal and shredded rubble.

According to local reports, as many as 75 third-grade students and staff were in the school at the time.

Rescuers worked all through the night, combing neighbourhoods, listening for voices and searching for survivors while helicopters and bright lights assisted from above.

Due to the soil and the fact that frost doesn't reach as deeply as it does in other areas of the U.S., basements aren't common in Oklahoma. As a result, many families turn to specially built storm shelters for protection. Green, his wife Kristen and three-year-old son Liam all sought refuge in theirs over the past few days.

"We bought a house at the start of the year and it didn't have one at the time," said Green. "Getting one installed was one of the conditions that we wanted to have in the sale of the home. We had a couple scares last year and it's peace of mind for me to know that if I'm on the road, my family is going to be safe if something rolls in.

"It's the best and safest place to be. All the weather people kept saying, 'If you're not underground right now, you're not safe from this storm. Chris VandeVelde lives down the street but doesn't have a shelter, so he and his wife (Olivia) came over on Sunday. We also have Tanner House living with us, so it would have been a tight squeeze if we all needed it, but it's where we needed to be."

Like many Albertans, the Barons captain is no stranger to the fury of Mother Nature.

Green, 35, was in the fourth grade when 'Black Friday' descended upon Edmonton on July 31, 1987. That afternoon nearly 26 years ago, an F-4 tornado touched down in the city's southeast, pillaging parts of Millwoods and Strathcona County before gaining power and heading north to the heavily populated community of Evergreen.

As a result, many parts of the city more closely resembled a war zone than a bustling urban community.

"Fortunately I wasn't directly affected by it," said Green, a Camrose native. "Even though I was only nine (years-old) at the time, I remember a lot about it. We took a drive through there a couple days later to see what the damage was like and it was pretty substantial. Based on what we've seen here, it's pretty similar.

"Devastating, to say the least."

Twenty-seven people lost their lives on Black Friday.

Like Edmonton so many years ago, the people of Moore, Oklahoma City and its surrounding communities have banded together.

Forwards Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk were evidence of that Monday evening. Once it was safe to do so, both players went to Moore to search for survivors and deliver water and other resources to those in need.

"It was pretty surreal," Hordichuk told "We were walking the neighbourhoods where the big areas were hit. One spot where I was walking, I walked by a grey tarp and the cops tracked me down. They told me it was a crime scene and that there was a body there. It puts it all into perspective when you hear that."

"Everybody bands together and helps out wherever they can," added Green. "With Hordi and Eags heading down there, it's pretty special. In their time being here and seeing how the community is, they felt it was their duty to get down there and help in any way they could.

"As a team, we're trying to pull together some resources and contribute in whatever way we can. Wipes and diapers for babies, water, clothing -- anything. I know the guys are very eager to help and do anything they can to help the families affected by this."

In May of 1999 and again in 2003, Moore took direct hits from twisters packing a similar punch. But as Head Coach Todd Nelson explains, and although it won't be easy, Moore and the state of Oklahoma will forge ahead.

"We have to make sure that as a community we take care of those people and that they can get through this," he said. "It's a horrifying incident and it's a tragedy, but the people of Oklahoma City will come together in this."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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