Tahlequah Daily Press

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April 17, 2012

Tales of survival from Woodward's deadly tornado

WOODWARD, Okla. — Bill Stanley was sound asleep shortly after midnight Sunday when he suddenly found himself trapped in bed by a demolished roof from a thundering tornado.

"I woke up with loose insulation on my face, and rain falling on me," said Stanley. "At first I thought it was just a surreal dream."

It wasn't and Stanley lived to tell about the real-life twister that killed six, injured two-dozen and destroyed more than 100 homes and businesses in this rural Oklahoma town.

Stanley's was one of several tales of survival that emerged from the twister that struck at 12:18 a.m. Sunday with only three minutes warning from the town's siren warning system.

None was more compelling than the story of Wilma Lake Nelson, 87, who also survived a 1947 tornado that killed 116 people here and ranks as the deadliest in Oklahoma history.

Nelson, a live-alone widow, said she heard about Sunday's tornado on the weather radio next to her bed, and hunkered down in a small closet in her bedroom.

"I had just got the door shut when I heard it," she told Oklahoma City News 9 TV station. "It sounded like an explosion. I guess that's when my roof went off."

She said a piece of sheet rock from the closet's ceiling hit her on the head, causing her to start "shaking like a leaf" before discovering she was okay. Her home, however, was destroyed.

Sixty-five years earlier, Nelson, then 23 years old, survived the town's historic tornado by hiding beneath a dining room table. That twister also demolished her then home.

"It is a miracle she's alive," said Robin Gregory, Nelson's daughter. "Thank God for that."

Nelson, who described herself as a "tough old coot," said she had no worldly explanation for surviving two deadly tornadoes 65 years apart.

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