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Thursday, 24 May 2012 16:20

Norman, Oklahoma, Body Shop Narrowly Escapes Next Door Tornado Devastation

In tornado season in Oklahoma you don’t have to be superstitious to think bad things could happen on any given day, never mind Friday the thirteenth. But for Norman shop owner Philip DeFatta, this Friday, April 13, could have been a day out of the movies. At about 4:00 p.m., a tornado hit the heart of Norman, Oklahoma and cut roughly an eight-mile swath through the town, especially the southwest portion.

According to local reports, the tornado hop-scotched through the center of town, tossing telephone poles, shredding trees and ripping off roofs. At least 10 people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

“I didn’t wake up that morning thinking anything bad was going to happen. I call that ‘stuperstitious,’” joked DeFatta, 43, owner of Leon Pierce Body Repair at 521 N. Porter Avenue.

However, that afternoon he was dashing inside his shop to take cover as the tornado hit. DeFatta heard the building next door literally explode, and debris from that building flew into his shop through the large garage door that was left open in his haste to reach safety. “I was holding onto the frame rack thinking I was going for a ride with it.”

While his shop suffered no damage, the building next door was destroyed and is now being demolished. Two cars, both owned by DeFatta, were damaged in the parking lot. One vehicle was totaled and the other nearly totaled.

Less than 30 minutes before the tornado hit, DeFatta heard the news on the radio about an approaching storm and he sent his five employees home. DeFatta stayed at the shop and was working under a frame machine when he heard the tornado sirens go off. He went outside to watch the storm.

“I’m from Texas,” DeFatta said. “In Texas, you can watch the tornados because you can see them coming. So, I went outside looking for it. That was my takeaway lesson from this,” he laughed. “Don’t stand outside looking for a tornado.” The tornado came wrapped in swirling, heavy rain, making it impossible to see. “I never saw it, never heard it. It just came.” DeFatta, who has been in town for only a few years, is told by the older folks in town that it’s a rare occurrence for a tornado to hit the heart of Norman.

Today, DeFatta says the town is still cleaning up. “Overall, we had mild damage but there are still messes, tree limbs, to clean up.” Damage to cars in town is making the shop busier these days too.


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