Recent Baker resident was close to Oklahoma tornado

By Jayson Jacoby May 23, 2013 05:50 am

By Jayson Jacoby

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When Rachel Looney left Baker City a few weeks ago for a new job in Oklahoma City, she knew she was moving into Tornado Alley.

But she didn’t expect to be greeted by an EF-5 twister.

Looney was at work Monday afternoon when the massive tornado touched down in Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City.

She and some of her co-workers at H & H Shooting Sports Complex were watching TV news coverage of the tornado warning when the company’s owner, speaking over the intercom, told everyone — including customers — that they needed to seek shelter.

Although the business doesn’t have an underground bunker, crews are building a new shooting range at the site.

Its thick concrete walls offer better protection than just about any kind of above-ground structure.

“Everyone was very calm; I didn’t feel any stress or anything,” said Looney, who started work at H & H on May 1.

The orientation of the building made it impossible to look to the south, toward Moore, so Looney never saw the tornado.

At the time the workers and customers congregated in the shooting range, heavy rain and hail was pelting the building, she said.

“You could see how dark it was,” she said.

The group waited for about 15 minutes in the shooting range, emerging after the tornado warning had lapsed.

They quickly learned, through the TV and via phone calls from relatives, how terrible the damage was in Moore.

Looney, 35, lived for nine years in Baker City and worked for eight years in the business office at the Baker City Herald.

She moved to Oklahoma City in part to be closer to relatives, including her brother, Joshua, 28.

Joshua Looney, who lived in Baker City for seven years, was at his job in a law office in Edmond Monday morning. That’s an Oklahoma City suburb about a 25-minute drive north of Moore.

Joshua said he watched as the weather changed from “blue sky to an EF-5 tornado within an hour.”

He said a family who attends the same church that he and Rachel are members of were at home, in the tornado’s path, when it touched down.

“They hunkered down in the bathroom,” Joshua said. “The tornado took out about half of the house, but it didn’t touch the bathroom.”

He said Monday’s tornado was close to the path of a powerful twister in 1999. But 14 years ago that section of Moore hadn’t been heavily developed, so damage was limited.

“There are places where there used to be subdivisions and there’s nothing there now,” he said. “It was pretty devastating.”

Having grown up in the Northwest, Rachel said she has had no experience with tornadoes.

She said she has been impressed with how quickly residents in Oklahoma there have banded together to help survivors.

“It’s been quite an adventure the past couple of days,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “But everybody jumps in and helps. People are like that — it’s kind of like Baker in that way.”