Surviving the Storm

This is how we survived- in our garage-floor shelter.

It’s not every day you ride out a tornado. A direct hit from an F3 that was something like 1/2 a mile wide. I never believed it would happen to us, but it sure as heck did, and it took only seconds to blow our house apart, snap off every one of our beautiful  oaks, flatten the surrounding forest, sweep away the barn, trash both vehicles, and bury everything we own under a mountain of debris.

We walked away without a scratch.

This miracle was provided by a sturdy steel box we had installed in the garage floor following the last tornado outbreak,11 years ago almost to the day. Before that, we would hunker in a crawl space under the stairs when severe storms blew through. Yesterday, the crawl space wouldn’t have been enough. Nothing above ground could have protected us from that kind of fury.

This is what greeted us when we crawled up from underground.

On Monday afternoon, Mike was baking bagels and I was upstairs placing an order for some Rives BFK, my favorite drawing paper. Our weather radio had been going off all day long, watches and warnings. The sky was strange: a dirty dark brown cloud cover with gray overtones. It was hot and sticky. The trees were full of warblers and a gray catbird hit the window. Then we got the tornado warning. A big one was coming our way, would probably miss us, but just to play it safe we took to the shelter, taking Gizmo with us (the only injuries I suffered were from a pissed off cat). I took my purse and a flashlight; Mike took his Kindle, God knows why (I guess he wanted to catch up on his reading). We weren’t down there 5 minutes before it hit.

A small bit of artwork, what's left of it. Almost everything else is either blown away, or buried.
It was being recalled anyway.

More a little later. I gotta go-we have errands to run. It’s been a little hectic.

65 thoughts on “Surviving the Storm

  1. Pingback: Via Negativa
    1. Lynne Levy says:

      Debbie and Mike, I have been thinking about you ever since I heard the dreadful news. Thank heaven you are both safe (and Gismo) but I am so very sorry about your house and things and art and … everything. I am so proud of your spirit of overcoming it all and moving on. Be well. Lynne

  2. Linda Coldwell says:

    So glad you’re back in the blogosphere so we can keep up with you. The devastation is heartrending. The house is bad, but the trees just add insult to injury. There’s no way to rebuild those, is there?

  3. julie Zickefoose says:

    I am so glad to see you. So glad you and Mike and Gizmo and your Mac survived. Keeping you in my thoughts every minute. I can’t even describe what a profound empathy I’m feeling for you. Love you.

  4. Ken Januski says:

    So glad that you all survived. That’s what is most important. But the devastation that it did to everything else, home, trees, artwork, etc. is just really sad to see.

    I grew up with tornadoes but never knew anyone personally who got hit like you did.

    Best wishes to all of you.

  5. Kathy Foley says:

    Debby, all your Woodson Art Museum friends are thinking of you and Mike. Thank goodness you survived the horrific storm. When I was a child my mother often reminded us that “you don’t cry over things that can’t cry over you.” I’m thinking you know that all too well right now. Be strong. With lots of love, Kathy

  6. Ann says:

    Thank God for the steel box. Mourning your art–I can’t imagine what that must be like. A library burning down or an old growth forest.

    Hope your birds return soon, singing.

  7. Clare says:

    Hi Debby (and Mike). I’ll add my voice to the course celebrating your safety, and mourning all that you’ve lost. I know houses can be rebuilt and trees will grow (in time, in time), but I have a hard time imagining the loss of treasures, art and possessions.

    I know I live a long inaccessible way away, but if there is any way I can help, let me know. You have our email address. I wish I could take hammer in hand and help rebuild.

    Take care,

  8. colleen says:

    Unimaginable, what a shock it must be, the most important things you still have, you, your beloved, and the cat.:-)

    You also have all of those who love you and your art standing with you in spirit, to do the next most difficult thing of letting go and rebuilding a new life. I hope you will feel free to ask for anything you need, just put it out there and let us respond with what we can. Keep us posted on how it goes from here.

  9. Angela Atkins says:

    I’m in Norman, by campus, and have a guest room. How can I help? I could come Saturday afternoon / evening and help sort the debris. Seriously. Email me so I can find you.

  10. Sophie says:

    Thank god the Kindle is safe!

    Seriously, I’ve been thinking about you constantly. I can’t even imagine. Thank goodness for your storm shelter and that Gizmo was smart enough not to hide.

    Alas, I am traveling next week but I am available to help in any way after that. (What of Panama?)

  11. Trixie says:

    I have been following your story from afar, however, the distance does not dampen the empathy I feel for you. Sighh….
    such relief to know you and your husband and kittie are safe. Such a joy to see your face as you hugged your banjo. Know that your life touches mine all the way in Alaska.

  12. Chelle Cordero says:

    Thank you for letting us in on this day with you – so glad that you, your mate & your cat survived the horrendous twister. Wishes from afar for a speedy recovery and rebuilding.

  13. Sara says:

    Debby, I only know you through Julie’s and Tim’s FB comments and bloggings (this bizarre new way we have of building community…) I wish you strength in you and your family’s recovery from this. Art goes on and helps sustain us in the most awful things, no?

  14. Bonnie says:

    So sorry to hear of your losses but praise for your safety. In Alberta, Canada we rarely have odd weather patterns but tornados are the exception.

  15. Mike DiGiorgio says:

    Heart breaking tragedy- all of your artwork gone?
    I can’t stop thinking about you both.
    After going through Kate’s cancer this past eight months, i learned that we have absolutely no control over our lives. It’s not what happens to us, but how we handle these tribulations that reveal our strength and character. You are my new hero.
    Hang on- believe it or not, things will get better.

  16. Sean O'D. says:

    I am in shock- you are two of my favorite people. I am deeply saddened by your losses. I remember an old friend telling me back in 1988 (a momentous year in many ways) that life gets stranger as one gets older. So true. Close brushes with the uroboros at midlife leave a funny taste. Somehow puts a finer sheen on things which maybe is good.
    I know you guys will power through, and my thoughts are with you.
    If you need/can take a break this summer do consider coming to visit us in the PacNorthWest.

  17. rick says:

    I have a 2010 gold prius. no doubt my insurance rates will go up as it is clear these vehicles accelerate uncontrollably, fail to stop, and attract tornados. What is wrong with toyota??????

  18. Filipe Leal de Faria says:

    What a relaxed account of such a terrific event!
    Congratulations for your courage!
    My thoughts are with you in this moments.

  19. 100swallows says:

    Debby: All morning I’ve been daydreaming that I run to that pile of stuff behind you in the picture and start searching for the great pictures and drawings. First I find some of your priceless notebooks, opened and paged through by the wind, but otherwise in good condition. And digging further I find a cupboard–the one with the best drawings–and they are OK! They survived! Then that woman with her back to the camera comes running with another notebook she found two hundred yards out. Maybe it’s not so total. Could it be? My heart goes out to you and Mike. A hug from 100swallows.

  20. Gabrielle says:

    We lost everything (including our cat) in an apartment complex fire just after we were married, so I am nearly in tears reading of your tragedy. Thank goodness you, your husband and your cat are okay. You and your neighbors have my deepest sympathy.

    My sister sent me art supplies after our fire and that just meant so much to me. I clung to art and to birding for dear life those first terrible weeks. It helped to convince me that life would go on and in those moments I could forget what had happened and feel normal for a little while. Friends who make you laugh are also invaluable.

    Wishing you healing, renewing and peace.

  21. Shanley Wells says:

    Debby, What do you need? We have plenty of spare room & bathrooms up here in Ponca City. It’s probably too far for you, but our doors are always open 24/7. Gloves? Shovels? Clothes? Paper? Pencils? What do you need?


  22. Gayle says:

    Just read your blog and I am happy to hear you, Mike and Gizmo are all safe. I must say I was concerned Monday evening thinking my house may get hit. We are all okay, but seeing so many others who have lost everything is very painful.

    I just wanted you to know your in my thoughts and prayers. I know you must have so many needs right now. If there is something I can do I would love to help. It is times like this that the community needs to reach out our arms and help in anyway possible.

    Feel free to email me. Sending you my very best.

  23. Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings says:

    I heard from Tim you were hit by the storm. Just found your post. I’m so sorry. If there is anything I can do, I’ll be glad to come help haul debris. My best friend’s house was hit by a tornado once. It’s amazing how quickly it comes, tears everything apart and then goes.

    Hang in there.~~Dee

  24. Linda says:

    Saddened by your loss of treasures, heartened that you and yours were safely tucked away. I went on to view your artworks and wish to convey my delight with your work. Here’s one “nobody” who thinks your talent is outstanding!

  25. Mary Maggi says:

    I’m a teacher at Little Axe High School, and I live on a beautiful 10 acres on Etowah 1.1 miles east of 120th. I was much more fortunate than you as the nearest tornado (an F-2) struck only 1 mile to my southwest.
    I don’t know what your situation is now, but I will be in Italy for four full weeks in July, and you, your husband, and Gizmo are welcome to live here.
    I have read about you and your work several times with interest as I too have spent a lot of time in Latin America (8 years +). I’m so sorry that you had to experience the worst of what our state has to offer!
    Mary Maggi

  26. R. Christian Anderson says:

    Debby… my good friend Gayle lives just a short drive from where your house stood. I am in Las Vegas, but she sent me your story this morning. I just wanted you to know, as a fellow artist, your story really touched me. How often do we glance at the newspaper and sip our morning coffee do we read about a tornado and the homes that were lost and continue to the sports page? I guess I just wanted to say you and your husband are in my thoughts and I affirm that you will pick up what you have, tough it out and you will both be better, stronger and more creative than you ever were before. Your artwork will be discovered miles from where it came from and some of it may never be found, but your art isn’t on paper… it’s in your heart, your soul, your spirit. What you put on paper will be more profound and brilliant than ever. Your art is within you, great lady. All I had to do is your description of the birds and your cat. Your art is within you and you inspired me a great deal this morning. Many blessings to you both.

  27. gail coppinger says:

    Holy shit Cotter Lewis emailed me from Nashville yesterday about going to Grass Valley and asked if i heard what happened to you and Mike . It figures that the banjo survived !!! I’m just shocked by the pictures and hope you are remembering to breathe ! xoxox gail

  28. Lynn Van Gundy says:

    Dear Debbie,

    Your art is very inspiring. I found you via Cynthia Wolf’s email about Clive Tyler’s show.

    When I read about your horrific tornado experience my heart feels so sad for your losses. For an artist to lose her body of work, ahhh, the agony (and eventually, maybe in five/ten years, the freedom). I have a fairly good supply of paints and papers. What do you enjoy using? I’ll go thru my stuff and send some to you. A great artist needs something with which to create!

    I’m hoping someone reading this will be inspired to either send you:

    — a gift certificate to Dick Blick Art Supplies, etc.
    — or
    — or good furnishings to help you get started again….
    — gift cards for meals/food/shelter, etc.

    We don’t know each other ………yet I love your art and wish the best for you and your husband as you TRULY REBUILD from the ground up.

    Lincoln City, Oregon

  29. R. Christian Anderson says:

    Lynn, what a great idea. Debbie, let me know what your mailing address is. I would be happy to send you some art supplies. It would be just to get you started again. You and your husband must be going through a terrible time emotionally, but hang in there… let’s turn lemons into lemonade. If I know where to send you some art stuff, I’d be happy to send some your way.


  30. Betty C Bowen says:

    I am so thankful that you are both OK, and sorry for all your losses. I hope you will post when/how/where you would like art supplies replaced (gift cards or whatever).

    Betty Bowen in Cushing

  31. Lynn Van Gundy says:

    Hi, Debby.

    It would be great if you would also let us know specific brands of art items you like to use.

    Cheering you on,

  32. Pedro Fernandes says:

    Dear Debby,

    I am deeply sorry for these events that have befallen you – and relieved to see you emerging unharmed from it all. Good, good thing you had that steel box.

    Hope you can rebuild your home swiftly.

    Someone mentioned earlier about lending a hand in resupplying with art materials and books, let us know if and how we can help.

    In any case, my thoughts are with you and hope to read that you are well in a near future.

    A big hug from Portugal,
    Pedro Fernandes

  33. kathiesbirds says:

    So, I now have my answer. Your art work is all gone. Thank goodness you installed that shelter. So sorry it was needed! Prayers and good thoughts are coming your way. What happens now? Where will you live? What do you need? How can we help?

  34. Elyse Bogart says:

    Debby, glad to hear you have salvaged at least some of your work. I was surprised in looking down the list of your blog readers to see Ken Januski’s name. What a small world…. he was a student of George’s the year he taught in Berkeley…
    Anything I can do?

  35. chris wood says:

    Hi Debby – you sure go in for scary weather in your part of the globe ! So glad you’re all safe and sound ! Good luck with the big clean up. Warmest wishes from the UK
    Chris Wood

  36. Steve Altshuld says:

    Hi Debbie,
    I’m very sorry for your loss but glad you are all safe. We don’t know each other but I’ve enjoyed following your blog and love your work. I too am a fellow birder, painter and bluegrass picker. What are the odds? I’d like to send you a few watercolor brushes and tubes of paint to help fill the gap, where can I send them?

    cheers, Steve

  37. Debbie Edgers Sturges says:

    Hi Debby,

    I just read your account and my eyes welled up with tears! You don’t know me, but I am a fellow wildlife painter from Idaho. When I was 19 I was buried by an avalanche in our ski cabin and lost both my parents that night. I had alot of feelings come up while reading your account and I am so glad you are safe! Please email me if I can help you in any way! I send you prayers and good wishes!

  38. Deepa says:

    Dear Debby
    Cant tell you the relief I feel that you are all safe. My wishes fly your way. Keep up your good old spirit.

  39. terriwagner says:

    You dont know me but I follow your blog now and then. We live in Kiefer OK…so sorry to hear you got hit by one of the tornandoes. We had one move by pretty close but we were lucky. I hope you have retrieved some of your beautiful artwork. I love the way you draw.

  40. Holly Wilson says:

    I heard of your sitituation and am so very sorry.

    I have sent some general art supplies and then I found that I have 2 drafting tables all wood very simple that I looking to get out of the way. One needs a bit of work but is really nice looking. let me know. I am in okc


  41. Lynn Van Gundy says:

    Words are not enough in a disaster.

    Action matters.

    I am sending a check for Debby and Mike Kaspari in care of:

    Rebecca Renfro
    6024 SE Cornell Dr.
    Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006

    That way the funds can go to whatever they feel they need the most.

    PLEASE consider sharing ANY amount too. A little bit of something can add up and be a big help.

    All the best,


    Oregon Coast

  42. Mike says:

    Interesting and tragic! I hope that everyone is having a happy Groundhog Day! I’m also glad that you made it through the tornado.

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