Oklahoma Members Survive Killer Tornado

Aerial view of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK, where IAM member George Rogers found his 9-year old son alive after a mile-wide tornado destroyed the structure.

IAM members in the nation’s midsection are no strangers to the wrath of Mother Nature; from hurricanes on the Gulf Coast to twisters in the nation’s most active “Tornado Alley.”

On May 20, the town of Moore, OK was hit by a monster EF5 tornado, with wind speeds in excess of 200 mph. Since 1998, Moore has endured three tornadoes, including one in 1999 with wind speeds of 318 mph, the highest ever recorded on Earth’s surface.

During the hour the latest tornado was on the ground, 13,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged and 22,000 people were left homeless. IAM Local 850 in Oklahoma City represents over 500 members under several contracts in the area. Nearly 800 IAM members of Airline and Railroad locals also work in the affected area.

“We have approximately 700 members in Local 2909 and some suffered devastating losses,” said Local 2909 Secretary Treasurer Sami Rector. “Some lost their homes, some lost their cars, some lost everything.”

At least nine IAM members’ homes were a total loss, with 26 suffering significant damage. According to District 171 Directing Business Representative Tony Bennett, there may be more, but communications are yet to be fully restored.

“The weather isn’t helping,” said Bennett. “This morning, there are flash-flood-level rains.”

Oklahoma Local 850 member George Rogers and his wife Jamie consider themselves fortunate after an EF-5 tornado demolished their home in Moore, OK.
Oklahoma Local 850 member George Rogers and his wife Jamie consider themselves lucky after an EF-5 tornado demolished their home in Moore, OK.

One Local 850 member, George Rogers, was in the middle of the storm as it happened. An IAM member since January 2009, Rogers is a general maintenance worker for Southwest Facilities Support at the FAA Center in Oklahoma City.

“I was at work, but I left as soon as I saw the reports of the tornado moving in,” said Rogers. “My wife was at work, one son was at his high school, and my 9-year-old son McClain was in the third-grade class at Plaza Towers Elementary. I wanted to get to him before the tornado hit.”

Plaza Towers Elementary School was among the hundreds of buildings in Moore that was totally destroyed.

“I could see the tornado coming in as I raced for home,” said Rogers. “I couldn’t get to the school in time, so I went to my father’s home, who has an underground storm shelter, and we dived into it.”

As soon as the storm passed, Rogers ran for the school.

“The building with my son’s classroom was separate from the rest of the school, and it was in splinters,” said Rogers, who was the third person on the scene at Plaza Towers. “I was calling my son’s name, and we were looking for survivors in the rubble. Someone saw the arm of a child sticking out of the debris, and we pulled out a child, and then another one. We’re trying to remove debris, and we had all kinds of wires hampering us. I pulled out my Leatherman tool, and we started cutting through the debris.

“A policeman and fireman were there, and a fireman pulled a child out, and I saw it was my son. Pointing to me, my son said to the fireman; ‘That’s my dad.’”

“We’ve lost everything,” said Rogers, whose home was destroyed. “But miraculously, my son was saved, and I have my family. None of that other stuff matters. I know what’s important. We are blessed.”

Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez Jr., asks the IAM membership to support the people of Moore as they prepare to clean up and rebuild.

“Our hearts go out to the entire community,” said Martinez Jr. “I hope all our locals take up collections, and they can send them to our Community Services Department, or to the Red Cross. I am deeply moved by all the stories of courage, hope, and giving that are coming out of this tragedy.”

“This is the kind of event that can take years to fully recover from,” said Transportation GVP Sito Pantoja. “We need to be there when the need is greatest but we also have to be there for the long haul, and that’s the kind of assistance the IAM Community Service Department can provide.”

The IAM Community Services Department is accepting tax-deductible donations to help with the relief effort. Checks should be made out to “I Am Assistance” and include the mailing and email address of the sender. Send all donations to IAM Headquarters at 9000 Machinists Place, Upper Marlboro, MD, 20772.

Members are also encouraged to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by visiting redcross.org, dialing 1-800-REDCROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.