By Nathan Baker
Johnson County native Steve Brown knows 47 minutes can feel like forever.
After surviving a direct hit from an EF5 tornado, Brown and his family spent those 47 tense minutes trapped in a darkened Moore, Okla., storm shelter as neighbors and emergency workers frantically moved debris from the remnants of their ruined home to free them.
And about that nearly universal observation by tornado survivors?
“It didn’t sound like a train, it sounded more like ocean water crashing in, but constant,” Brown said, describing the roar of the twister that destroyed his home.
Brown spoke with the Elizabethton STAR Thursday, after nearly two weeks of reunions, recovery and picking up the pieces.
Brown, a retired air traffic controller, was working his regular job at nearby Tinker Air Force Base when the monster storm formed.
“It was getting close to release time, and my boss came upstairs and told be I needed to leave, there was a bad storm headed toward Moore,” he said. “Driving toward home, I heard the guy on the radio say that if you live in Moore, you’re going to get a direct hit.
“That made me drive a little bit faster.”
As he hurried home to his wife and 16-year-old son, Brown said he kept a lookout in the foreboding sky for forming funnel clouds.
A few miles from his neighborhood golf ball-sized hail began bouncing off his truck’s hood.
“It wasn’t raining, just those big chunks of ice falling out of the sky,” he said. “When that started falling, I busted tail and got home.”
Brown’s wife and son had already taken cover in the tornado shelter dug into the floor of their garage when he arrived.
After “doing the typical man thing” of trying to spot and photograph the looming tornado from outside for a few minutes, Brown was finally convinced by his wife to crawl into the shelter.
“I had the radio turned up so we could hear it down there in the hole,” he said. “As they kept talking about the tornado and where it was going it started to look more and more like we were going to be in the target zone.”
When the winds outside the garage began to pick up, Brown said his wife began to cry.
He reassured her and their son of the safety of their shelter and fastened the door covering its top before the power went out.
“We could hear it outside getting closer and stuff breaking,” Brown recalled. “It was just so fast.
“Our shelter had little holes in the top to let light in. We were sitting there talking and all of a sudden everything got black. That was our house falling on us.”