Amy and Cody Shipman, parents of a first-grader, 6-year-old Kenzi, were on the phone about that time, urgently trying to decide where their daughter would be safest. Amy, at work in Oklahoma City, pushed Cody to leave Kenzi at Plaza Towers. Cody wasn't sure.
"We had decided to leave her there, but the storm had gotten so big that the newscasters said that if you were above ground, you need to either run" or get underground, Amy Shipman said by cellphone from her car Tuesday as she drove to rent a storage unit for what is left of her family's belongings.
The family lived three doors down from the school, about a city block. There is a small creek between the house and school, and no through street by which to drive there. Cody took off on foot.
"He just ran in and started screaming her teacher's name, and they pointed him in the direction" where Kenzi's first-grade class was huddled against a wall.
Cody is an oil field worker. He works in New Mexico: two weeks on, two weeks off. He was home because he was off.
He grabbed his daughter and sprinted toward the family's home, where neighbors were opening their storm shelter. About 20 people crowded in just before the tornado hit and collapsed the school wall where Kenzi was just a few minutes earlier.
"I believe she would have been on the west wall of the school," Amy Shipman said. "That was the first side of the school that was hit."
"They got in (to the neighbor's shelter) and held the door down," she said. "Just rode it out."
The Shipmans' home was destroyed. "Our home is unlivable," she said, "but if you compare it to the ones across the street," they fared better. "We still have some walls, some roof."
The home is "open to the sky, portions of our walls are missing, brick peeled, the garage door is in the kitchen." Much of what they own is covered in mud.
"We may be able to salvage things," she said, "but other people won't have that luxury."
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