Belongings have ceased to matter to Kyle Schasteen, a former Gardner resident and Gardner Edgerton High School alum, living in Moore, Okla.
He is the son of Melvin and Cheryl Schasteen, Gardner.
“Everything I own was immediately not important to me at all,” Kyle said of the F-5 tornado that wiped out half of his community and killed more than 20 people in Oklahoma last week. “It’s family members and friends and their well-being that matter.”
Kyle was separated from his wife, Sam, and four-year-old daughter Maddie, when the massive tornado tore through town.
“I did know we had the storm shelter, and they know how to get in it,” he said. “I knew everything was probably going to be OK.”
That knowledge didn’t stop him from making frantic calls trying to reach them in the immediate aftermath.
As the tornado blazed through, Kyle took shelter at Tinker Air Force Base, where he works as a civilian. The base is about 12 miles from his home in Moore.
Sam and Maddie were OK, having weathered the storm in the shelter. The pair headed to their storm shelter when they learned that a tornado had touched down about five miles west of their house.
“I was texting as many people as I could to let them know we were in the shelter,” Sam wrote about the experience.
They left the lid to the shelter open as long as possible. Kyle’s sister, Jacinda (Schasteen) Chisolm, lives in the same neighborhood, but her home doesn’t have a shelter.
“I tried calling and calling and couldn’t get through,” Sam wrote. “I had to resort to texting her to tell her to come and get in the shelter. We couldn’t wait any longer and had to close up.”
Sam knew the tornado was headed straight for them.
“The noise got louder and louder and angrier,” she said. “All I could think of was Jacinda. We heard metal twisting and turning. And then it softened.”
Sam, Maddie and friends who joined them in the shelter waited a few minutes before trying to leave the shelter. A neighbor removed debris from the shelter door so the foursome could exit.
Schasteen wasn’t able to reach his wife in the aftermath, but he spoke to his mother-in-law, who had talked to Sam. Everyone was safe, but the devastation was numbing.
“Our house was hit, but still standing,” Sam said. “My neighbors four houses down couldn’t say the same.”
Sam had to find Jacinda.
“With Maddie in my arms, I ran as fast as I could to get to her house,” Sam wrote. “I was a wreck.”
Jacinda, a Gardner Edgerton High School alum, had taken shelter in a bathroom. The two hugged and cried, and then tried to take stock of the damage.
The tornado tore a jagged path through their neighborhood. Some houses were left standing – like Jacinda’s and the Schasteen’s. The Schasteen home sustained major damage. The storm blew out all of the windows and debris knocked holes in the roof.
Other homes were reduced to piles of rubble.
“We have a home that’s still standing, but just down the street there’s the opposite of that, if you go four houses down the other way,” Kyle said. “I would not say that our house is liveable right now.”
When Kyle arrived home from work, the first homes he noticed in his neighborhood, were completely leveled.
“I was just standing around,” he explained. “Shell-shocked. People were just trying to figure out what to do. Really in those first few hours, it was trying to connect with friends and family and let everyone know you’re OK. It’s really difficult, because everyone else is trying to do the same.”
The first evening after the storm, the Shasteens stayed with friends nearby. They’re now staying at guest housing at Tinker Air Force Base, but the immediate future is unknown. As of May 24, they were still awaiting word from their insurance adjuster.
During the days, they head home and try to patch together the pieces. They are in the process of sorting through their belongings to see what survived and what will need to be replaced.
“We’ve been really hesitant to do much in the house, because we haven’t heard much from the insurance company or when they’re going to be here,” he said.
They’ve had a lot of help, even President Obama has stopped through to assess the damage on Sunday. Sam and Kyle both shook his hand and listened as the President made small talk with neighbors.
“It’s just amazing how much support people are giving us,” Kyle said. “It’s overwhelming.”
As they sort through their belongings and clear streets, people are continually stopping through the neighborhood to see if they need anything.
“There are people driving down the street asking if we need anything, do we need water?” Kyle said. “People are thinking of everything they can possibly do.”
Chefs from Waco, Texas, came through and offered a bunch of to-go boxes of food.
“It was chicken pot pie,” Kyle said. “It was delicious.”
In addition to numbering their belongings, Kyle said they’re also counting their blessings. They’re insured, and have family nearby – not just Jacinda, but also Sam’s parents, who are watching their daughter regularly and helping in the clean-up. “There’s danger everywhere for a four-and-a-half year-old little girl,” Kyle said.
“The storm, it helps you quickly determine what’s really important,” he said.
Sam’s first-person account of the storm can be read on her blog at LINK.