Freezer saves woman from tornado
Updated: 2013-05-23 10:48
A man carries his belongings on Tuesday through the debris in Moore, Oklahoma, which was left devastated by a tornado. Rescuers went building to building in search of victims and survivors, picking through the rubble of their shattered homes. The massive tornado that tore through the Oklahoma City suburb, wiped out blocks of houses and killed at least 24 people.[Photo/Agencies]
Restaurant owner sits out twister next to frozen food.
For years Anita Zhang's neighbors joked that if a tornado ever bore down her Chinese restaurant, folks could take refuge in its roomy walk-in freezer.
On Monday, Zhang got the chance to test their idea - and lived to tell the tale - when one of the most powerful and destructive twisters to hit the United States in recent years ripped through this Oklahoma City suburb. "I'm so lucky," she said, over and over, through an interpreter on Tuesday.
A native of Guangdong, the Chinese province that is no stranger to merciless typhoons, 57-year-old Zhang emigrated to the US 10 years ago with other members of her family.
She opened the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant on Southwest 19th Street seven years ago in a commercial strip mall that catered to Moore's many middle-class residential developments.
It had a good reputation for dishes such as spicy fried General Tso chicken. "Great food at a great price," wrote one Google reviewer. "Very nice family-owned restaurant. The food is excellent. Service is quick."
Monday's tornado moved fast, too. Police say at least 24 people were killed when its 320 kph winds cut a 27-kilometer swath through Moore.
Zhang was watching live storm coverage on local television in the restaurant with her brother Michael, 50, when suddenly the power went off, the neighborhood disaster sirens wailed and the dark funnel drew near.
Into the freezer the siblings went - with a blanket, thoughtfully - to sit out the twister as it passed on top of them, pulverizing everything in its path.
"I thought it was an earthquake," recalled Michael.
"I felt the building was shaking and moving. There were loud noises and banging and wind blowing ... I thought only the glass door of the restaurant would be broken, but when we crawled out, everything was gone."
They initially found it hard to open the freezer door against the debris. Once out of the freezer, Zhang heard people shouting: "Anyone there?" Later, she learned from her daughter that it was the neighbors, coming to check on their safety.
Zhang's misfortune was for the business her family had toiled so hard to build to be on the wrong side of Southwest 19th Street, which turned out to be the southern edge of the tornado's path.
On the north side of the street, besides the restaurant, the tornado smashed the entire Camden Village strip mall, including a liquor store that on Tuesday reeked of broken bottles of booze, as well as a Walgreen's drug store.
Zhang's family returned to the restaurant on Tuesday to recover whatever they could salvage - sacks of white rice, cans of vegetables, a barrel of MSG - for safekeeping in their two-car garage back at home.
She said she would like the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant to reopen. It was insured, she said, although 24 hours after disaster struck, the family is still coming to grips with everything that has happened.
For now, Zhang is more than content that her two granddaughters are unhurt. Their mother, who is Zhang's daughter, took them out of school before the tornado got too close and drove off with them to safety.
"They are back now," she said with a sigh of relief. "They are alive."