Moore bank vaults served as tornado shelters

Bank vaults served as shelters from the storm for some in Moore during Monday afternoon’s EF-5 tornado. And a couple of people with Kansas connections nearly crossed paths while seeking that shelter.

Caroline Anderson, who has lived in Wichita for five years, was in Moore to help her sister, Ruth Singers, and her family move from Florida.

The sisters are both married to Boeing aerospace engineers.

“I had been in the Midwest for almost five years and seen (no tornadoes) and she was just here for two days before they had one,” Anderson said.

The sisters, who had Singer’s 10-month-old baby with them, were trying to set up a post office box in Moore as the storm approached. They spotted a Freddy’s but were told at the drive-thru that the restaurant was no longer serving because of the storm. When it started hailing, they sought protection from golf-ball-size hail under the awning of a credit union branch near the interstate and the Warren Theatre.

The tellers told them to seek shelter inside. Looking out, they could see the tornado.

“It was huge,” Anderson said. “We were like ‘No wonder you wanted us in here!’ ”

Inside the vault, they unsuccessfully tried to distract the baby as the tornado went past.

“Even through 8 to 12 inches of steel, you could still hear it,” Anderson said. “It sounded like sirens with high-powered wind. Some people say it sounds like a freight train. I guess it does kind of sound like that.”

After about 20 minutes in the vault, they emerged.

“We were floored,” Anderson said. “We had no idea how bad it was. Everyone was just standing there with their mouths open.”

“What really struck me was how noisy it was when it was going on, with the storm, the weather radio, sirens, a baby crying and people praying. And then after we got out of the vault, it was just silent. … That added to the shock. It was just so quiet after two minutes of terror.”

After getting in touch with their husbands, and determining that the hotel they were staying at was without running water, the Singers came to visit Wichita from Tuesday to Thursday.

“I can’t even imagine if we weren’t out here (to help her move) what would have happened,” Anderson said. “(Ruth) didn’t know what to do at all for tornadoes and not knowing anyone in the city would have been terrifying.”

The vault shook

Rich Fosnight had finished mowing lawns on Monday afternoon when he and his 6-year-old son, Brakston, headed to the bank to cash some checks and go to the post office.

Fosnight, a Hutchinson native, still has family in Kansas. He moved to Moore in 2001, and his home was damaged by the tornado that hit Moore in 2003.

The two went into Tinker Federal Credit Union – just half a mile from Anderson and her sister – so Brakston could deposit $10 into his savings account.

The credit union employees urged everyone inside to get into the vault for safety.

“I kept telling him that if it hits, he’ll hear loud things, people screaming. I told him we will be OK,” Fosnight said of his son.

“If it was just me, I would stand and watch (the storm) until the end, but I had my son, so I put him in the back of the vault, the furthest wall, and it was maybe 10 minutes or so before it got to us and we started losing power.”

When the time came to lock the vault, it wouldn’t stay shut.

“They had to loop a belt through it to keep it closed. I was trying to keep my boy distracted by letting him play on my phone – I never do that. When it hit, the belt snapped and a police officer and branch manager were holding the door shut, shouting ‘Don’t let go!’ ”

The vault was shaking, Fosnight said, so he rolled on top of his son to protect him.

“You could hear stuff crashing into the building and shattering. We were in two feet of solid concrete but it started shaking,” he said. “I just had to make sure he was as safe as possible. … I was hoping and praying to God that the vault was going to hold up as well as our underground storm cellar the last time.”

After the storm finally passed, the vault door couldn’t be opened because debris was piled in front of it. The door opened a sliver, so light and fresh air entered the vault.

“I told him, when we go outside, you’re not going into the bank. You’re walking into the outside and there’s going to be a bunch of trash and you have to watch where you walk. He wasn’t scared at all. It was impressive to see how calm and collected he was out of the vault, with people digging people out and screaming.”

But Brakston did have one concern, Fosnight said.

“He asked me, ‘Daddy, how do I get my money now?’ In his mind, he just handed it to the teller and now the money is gone. I had to explain to him how it worked and that the money had insurance on it. He was OK with that but it was just a funny reaction. I was just glad for such a lighthearted response.”

Fosnight found his truck, but not in the condition he left it in. It was crumpled, and cash from checks that he had left in the center console was nearly gone.

“There was a single $20 bill in the floorboard. I thought it was pretty ironic.”

He later found out he was lucky that his home didn’t sustain any damage. His employer is providing him with a temporary vehicle.

“It was a blessing that they would provide a vehicle for me,” Fosnight said. “I’m also filling out a FEMA application to see what help we can get from there. It’s definitely a blessing to walk away with our lives.”

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