A killer tornado obliterated a Tinker Federal Credit Union branch in Moore, Okla., but its steel safe deposit vault encased in concrete saved the lives of Branch Manager Jan Davis, eight members and 14 employees.
That image, of the vault standing sentinel surrounded by debris, was one of the striking images that captured national media coverage after the May 20 storm.
Only nine days after the tornado killed 25 people in Moore, injured hundreds of others, destroyed 1,300 homes, two schools and numerous businesses, including the Moore branch, The $3.1 billion credit union’s senior management and the board of directors decided to immediately start the process of rebuilding the branch in the same location.
“My staff is excited about going back home,” Davis said in an interview with the Credit Union Times. “I love this community. I can’t imagine being somewhere else.”
Although the vault that saved 22 lives had to be scrapped, a portion of its wall has been saved to create a memorial at the new 6,000-square-foot branch, which will feature a personal finance café, investment center, an indoor children’s play area, six drive-through lanes, an ATM, and of course, a new safe deposit vault.
The details of the memorial are still being worked out, said Matthew Stratton, TFCU senior vice president of marketing. More than 20 photos of the branch’s reconstruction are posted on the credit union’s website.
Some of the people who huddled in the vault during the tornado were interviewed on national news broadcasts such as NBC and CNN. The story also appeared on news sites throughout the country and around the world.
As the tornado approached, Davis and employees closed the branch and quickly ushered everyone into the vault. Despite the F-5 tornado’s ferocious winds of 261 to 318 mph, Davis and others in the vault managed to keep the door shut.
For about three horrifying minutes, Davis, the employees and members were cramped in a safe deposit vault as the monstrous tornado was raging around them, destroying everything in its path.
“I was at the door and left it just a crack open so I could tell what was happening,” she described in May. “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.”
While Tinker FCU’s storm protocols went smoothly, the Oklahoma City-based cooperative is considering installing a latch system for its vault doors to keep them closed during a natural disaster.
“The vault is designed to keep people out, not accidentally lock people in,” Stratton said. “There is probably going to be some type of adaptation to make it easier to latch the vault from the inside but would still allow people to get out.”
Davis said the new branch will be one of the first new structures to pop up in the devastated area. Because the branch can be seen from Interstate 35 it will give passersby and visitors a strong sign that the city is on the rebound, she said.
Moore residents wasted little time cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of tons of debris and rebuilding their homes and businesses.
The Oklahoman, a daily newspaper, reported that in Moore the sounds of construction are ubiquitous.
“Moore residents say they wake up and often go to sleep with the bang of hammers and the whine of power tools,” the newspaper reported Nov. 19.
The city issued 332 building permits for new, single-family homes in storm-damaged areas and an additional 418 permits for remodel work for homes that were damaged by the tornado, according to The Oklahoman. What’s more, 11 businesses have secured permits to rebuild and six other companies have applied for permits to remodel, the newspaper reported.
“The residents of Moore are strong and proud, and they are working hard to make a comeback,” Stratton said.