Jan Davis, assistant vice president and manager of the Tinker Federal Credit Union branch in tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla., is not sure how her harrowing experience has changed her.
But she does know her appreciation for life, her love of community is deeper than ever. And she is looking forward to rebuilding the TFCU branch that was ripped apart by a violent tornado in a matter of minutes.
“I love the people here and I am very happy to stay here….to rebuild that branch and start again,” Davis said in an interview with the Credit Union Times. “We’ll make it bigger and better."
Also from Oklahoma Tornado:
Also from Oklahoma Tornado:
- Loans to Offer Shelter From the Storms
- Ohio, Kansas, California Joins in Relief Effort
- Pen Air FCU Starts Relief Collections
- Redstone Collecting Donations in Alabama
- Leagues Chip In, Life-Saving Vault Still Inaccessible
- CUNA Mutual Contacts 57 CUs
- Branch’s Vault Still Stands Sentinel
- NCUA Activates Relief Policy
- Weokie Staff Also Retreated to Vault
- CUNA Mutual Sending Disaster Team
- League, NCUF Assessing Impact
- Tinker Staffers Survive in Safe
Today, the 6,387-square-foot TFCU branch is a chaotic pile of broken steel beams, splintered wood, broken glass, twisted sheet metal, torn insulation, shredded wires and busted office furniture and equipment. Every car in the branch’s parking lot also was destroyed by the tornado Monday afternoon that claimed the lives of 24 people, including eight children and two infants, and caused more than $2 billion in damage.
On Monday afternoon, there were 14 employees, including a police officer, eight members, including a little boy who was with his dad, in the branch. Davis was closely monitoring the tornado reports on television.
“I could see that the tornado was escalating and could potentially be heading our way,” she said. “I put my entire staff on alert. We were readying ourselves to go into the vault.”
When the tornado sirens sounded, the employees and members hurried into the vault.
“I was at the door and left it just a crack open so I could tell what was happening,” she said. “Once I heard the noise of the tornado – the cracks and the pops – I knew it was there and pulled the steel door shut. We heard very loud bangs and crashes, glass breaking, things hitting things. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind in that vault that the building was gone.”
(Click to enlarge this image from Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman NewsOK.com)
What made matters even more stressful is that the pressure inside the vault was overwhelming. It feels like the pressure that builds up in your head when you’re flying in an airplane. But when a tornado is bearing down on you, Davis described, multiply that pressure in your head by a 100 times.
“It feels like your head is going to explode,” she said.
As Davis and others were pulling the steel door shut to make sure it wouldn’t suddenly blow open by the fierce, 200 mph winds of the tornado, some people were crying and others were praying.
“I was telling people that it (the vault) was going to hold,” said Davis. “And I believed that to the core of my body. I am a perpetual optimistic.”
Davis, who has been manager of the branch since it was opened in 2005, knew that there was rebar (steel rods) within the concrete shell surrounding the vault, and that the rebar rods were securely fastened to the foundation of the branch.
“I’m not saying it’s the greatest storm shelter ever, but it was on Monday,” she said.
When the tornado finally subsided, they tried to push open the door but debris was blocking it. The police officer called 9-1-1.
Although everyone in the vault was relieved that the tornado had passed and first responders were on the way, the odor of natural gas was filling up the vault.
“The smell of natural gas was pretty thick,” Davis said. “We were anxious but everyone remained calm.”
Finally, the first responders removed the debris from the door and opened it.
“Everyone was absolutely relieved to be out of there,” Davis said. “Everyone in that vault walked out in good shape.”
The TFCU employees and members were among the first to see the devastation that surrounded them.
“We couldn’t step anywhere without stepping on debris,” said Davis, who stayed with employees and members until relatives picked them up.
Davis eventually made her way home as well and shared unforgettable moments of relief and elation with her family, including a very special someone.
“I have a grandchild and she was never so happy to see me,” Davis said.
The story of the TFCU vault saving the lives of employees and members caught the attention of the national media and was featured on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News.