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Owner Bill Warren says he’s glad everyone at Moore theater made it safely through tornado

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 20, 2013, at 7:49 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 24, 2013, at 8:54 a.m.

Early Monday evening, an emotional Bill Warren recounted what it was like to experience – from a distance – the tornado that struck Moore, Okla., where he owns a theater.

First came concern at forecasts predicting tornadoes, then fear as a massive twister bore down on the city, followed by relief that staff members and customers were OK, then back to concern for everyone around the city who wasn’t as lucky.

Warren said his biggest emotion was fear “as far as worrying about the people on the inside, the souls.”

No one was hurt at his theater, though the building sustained damage.

“The theater had a little bit of damage, but I don’t care about that,” Warren said.

Pictures and video made the destruction at the theater appear worse than it is, he said. Warren said a manager “said that the front of the place is superficially pretty torn up.”

He said a Fox news outlet in the Moore area informed him that his theater was being used as a triage center. Warren speculated that’s because it held up better than other buildings in the area.

“It’s a testament to that building and the design of it because the hospital next door is being evacuated as we speak, and the bowling alley doesn’t exist anymore, and you’re talking 200 feet away,” he said.

There’s also a Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers a block south of the theater. Scott Redler, chief operating officer of Wichita-based Freddy’s, said Monday evening there was no word on the condition of the restaurant yet but that everyone there was OK.

“That’s the important stuff,” Redler said. “No one’s injured, so that’s really all that matters.”

Warren said staff members at his Wichita and Oklahoma theaters know what to do in bad weather and other emergencies. He said the company has had safety procedures in place for years.

“I’m a business that by the very nature of it, we have thousands of people in our building, and so we feel … a very, very real and personal responsibility of taking care of those folks and making sure they’re safe,” Warren said. “We drum that into our management.”

Warren said the procedure his Moore staff followed was the same one his Wichita staff followed on Sunday during a tornado threat.

First, whatever movies are playing are stopped.

“We turn on the lights. We announce to the public what’s going on,” Warren said.

Moviegoers are then told they can leave or stay and take cover in a hallway or between seats.

“We normally suggest that they stay there,” Warren said. “It’s not as safe as being underground, but it’s the second-best safety.”

Warren and Redler said their thoughts are with the residents of Moore.

“Stuff like this is just so tragic,” Warren said.

He said he can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have lost homes.

“Something they’ve saved for all their life and lived in all their life,” Warren said. “It’s got to be devastating.”

Boeing plant spared

Employees at Boeing’s Oklahoma City offices took shelter as the massive tornado hit Moore, about a 20-minute drive to the southwest.

Everyone at the plant was safe, said Boeing’s Oklahoma City spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan. She said the offices were not damaged.

There was no word Monday evening about whether any Boeing employees’ homes had been struck.

About 100 Boeing employees live in the Moore area. It’s not known how many of them are transfers from the company’s Wichita facility, said Boeing spokeswoman Michelle Nalley.

Spirit AeroSystems’ plants in Tulsa and McAlester, Okla., also escaped harm, said Spirit spokesman Ken Evans.

“Our thoughts are with those who are working and those who have homes in that area,” Evans said.

He didn’t know Monday whether any employees’ homes were damaged, he said.

“We’re wanting to make sure everybody is going to be safe,” Evans said. “Safety is our No. 1 priority.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at crengers@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6340.

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