"But Ryleigh was Safe!" – Why Emergency Plans Matter
|Two days after a massive EF5 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
On May 20, Ashleigh dropped off her daughters, 3-year-old Ryleigh and 4-month-old Britton, at day care in Moore, OK. Then she drove to work, unaware how the 45-50 minute commute would torment her later that day.
"It really was a nice day most of the day. The weather had said there was going to be storms, but in the spring, just about every day there is potential for storms so you don't really think about it very much," Ashleigh said.
Back at the All About Kids Learning Center, owner Nancy Goodrich was monitoring the weather, as usual. By 2 pm she knew a tornado could be coming her way. By 2:45 she had teachers calmly start moving the kids to the safe room she'd built for times like this.
"It's time to go to the rain room," they cheerfully told the kids, just as they do during frequent drills. Designated staff gathered the infants—including Britton, the center's youngest—and placed them in wheeled cribs to push them to the safe room.
Nancy's Foresight Pays Off
"In February one night, I woke up and I knew I didn't have enough room for all of our children," Nancy said. "So I decided I was going to build shelves like in a choir. The next day, I called my builder and I said, I need shelves, so I can fit more kids."
Altogether, 162 children, staff and parents fit comfortably in the safe room that day.
Around that time, Ashleigh got a call from her husband.
"He said, have you been watching the weather? I said, no, I was in meetings. I turned on the news and I saw it was getting bad. I was watching live streaming video at my desk. At first I was thinking it might hit our house and I was kind of worried about the dog, but the house is just stuff so that wasn't a huge concern," she said.
|Three-year-olds Ryleigh and Paige play with dolls in their renovated child care center, which was damaged by the EF-5 tornado that hit Moore, OK on May 20th, 2013. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
"But when I saw path, and saw it was over a mile wide, I knew it was it was going to hit the [day care] center. I knew there was no way I could get to them in time. I just had to watch and see what happened. It was really scary, you could see the damage happening."
Calm Children, Terrified Parents
Inside the safe room, Nancy told the children that hail might break the windows of the center to start preparing them for what they might see when they came out.
"We sang songs, we read books, just to keep them happy," said Nancy. Despite the heat, it worked.
When the tornado lifted back up into the clouds, Ashleigh raced to her car.
"Cell phone service was basically non-existent. I was on my way, my husband was on his. We didn't know who would get their first. We couldn't get ahold of the center," she said. "I was praying the whole time."
Ashleigh's husband arrived first but he had to leave his truck to walk over debris and downed power lines and poles that had smashed cars in the parking lot. The sirens went off again and everyone thought there was going to be another tornado, but it was a malfunction.
"Finally I got a call from him that the girls were safe," Ashleigh said. "Obviously it was a huge blessing to know they were okay. Also at that time, the reports started coming in about children who had died at school very close to their day care center."
|In a recent family photo, Ryleigh sticks close to her mom, Ashleigh, and her little sister, Britton. Photo Credit: Sara Hurt|
Some parents had to walk miles in fear to reach the center. Many cried when they learned their children were alright.
One block over from the center was total devastation. At Nancy's center, windows were blown out, one roof partially ripped off, and beams smashed through another. But the safe room was fully intact and Ryleigh, Britton all of the children were alright.
Oklahoma Still Falls Short on Save the Children's Disaster Report Card
"I think as a parent, especially having gone through this now, if I was selecting a center, I could definitely not select one that didn't have a plan, do drills, or take special care for infants," Ashleigh said. "Obviously, they have to be taken care of first, because they cannot take care of themselves at all."'
Oklahoma is one of 24 states that don't require child care centers to have emergency plans that specifically address children with disabilities and those with access and functional needs – including infants.
"It needs to happen. There's just too much risk," Ashleigh said. "I don't know what it takes to put a plan in place, but what [Nancy] did seems fairly simple. But there needs to be something in place to make sure it does not get overlooked."
Ready to Talk About It
For a time after the tornado, Ryleigh was terrified of loud noises, like air conditioners and toilet flushes, and she had frequent nightmares. But after keeping her at home for two weeks, Ashleigh found that sending Ryleigh back to child care at the temporary space Nancy organized helped her to rebound.
Now Ryleigh sometimes asks to drive past the old center.
"She'll say, 'Oh look at that mess, somebody needs to clean that up!' One day she said, 'That tornado! He's a bad boy!' " Ashleigh said and laughed.
"She'll talk about it and then she'll always say, 'But Ryleigh was safe!'"