OKLAHOMA CITY (5/20/14)--One year ago today a half-mile-wide tornado destroyed Tinker FCU's (TFCU) branch in Moore, Okla. While the EF5 tornado devastated much of the Moore area, killing 24 people and injuring 377 others, it somehow spared 23 employees and members who took shelter in the branch's vault.
|The Moore, Okla., branch of Tinker FCU was the first business in Moore that was destroyed in May 20, 1013 tornado to reopen. The new branch opened its doors Jan. 27. Today is the first anniversary of the tornado.|
Today, on the anniversary of the storm, employees of the credit union are back at the newly rebuilt Moore branch, serving the community after an emotion-filled year that tested the resiliency of the entire Moore community. The TFCU Moore branch reopened its doors on Jan. 27--eight months after the storm.
The anniversary has stirred up a mix of emotions for Moore branch employees, said Matt Stratton, vice president of marketing for the $1.6 billion-asset Oklahoma City-based credit union. "It's somber and reflective, because there was loss of life around the city of Moore, but we're also excited to be open again," Stratton told News Now. "Of the businesses in town that were completely destroyed, we were the first to re-open. We like being part of recovery. Moore is tough town. Oklahoma is a tough state."
On the day of the tornado, TFCU employees monitored the approaching storms and followed the established protocol for severe weather, taking shelter in the safe deposit box vault. All 14 employees, eight TFCU members and one passer-by rode out the storm and walked away from the destruction without injury.
"I am so grateful for the people at the Moore branch and the friendships we have made from that day," said TFCU member Dena Clark, who took shelter in the vault during the storm. "Yes, it happened and it's part of my family's story now. My husband and I just celebrated our first year of marriage and buying our first house--none of that would have happened without TFCU and how the people there saved my life."
After the tornado ended, the building's debris blocked the vault door from opening, but first responders--who arrived within minutes--helped the employees and members get out. Because new storms were on the way, the group took cover a second time in a basement across the street until family members arrived (News Now May 22, 2013).
|Only the safe deposit box vault of Tinker FCU's Moore, Okla., branch was left standing in the aftermath of an EF5-scale tornado that hit the area near Oklahoma City. Fourteen staffers and eight members were inside the vault and escaped with no injuries. (Photos provided by Tinker FCU)|
Immediately following the storm, TFCU employees worked to communicate to members about the destruction of the branch, the safety of everyone inside and that all of their information was secure. TFCU leadership met to begin the plan of recovery.
"We began a conversation with our community almost immediately through social media, and the outpouring of support was inspiring," said Stratton. "There was never any doubt that we would rebuild and be a part of Moore's recovery, and we are so thankful for all of the support and encouragement we received from everyone who helped out along the way, beginning only moments after the tornado passed right through to opening day of the new branch."
While the new branch was being built, Moore branch employees were assigned to other locations within TFCU's branch network. "We gathered all the branch employees together right after the tornado to decompress, if you will, and let them know we would have a job for everyone that was the best fit for what they were doing that was as close to their homes as possible," Stratton told News Now.
The safe deposit box vault was the only remaining, intact structure of the branch. The vault walls were constructed of 5-inch-thick concrete panels with steel rods that penetrate through the foundation to securely affix the vault to its location in the building.
TFCU memorialized the strength of the vault and the events of May 20, 2013, with the installation of a monument made from a recovered section of the vault where people took shelter during the storm. The monument, located outside of the rebuilt branch, displays the original building dedication plaque and an etched inscription to pay tribute to the lives saved and the spirit of Oklahomans in times of need.