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30 years since deadly Catoosa tornado

Catoosa Tornado
Posted at 5:50 AM, Apr 24, 2023

CATOOSA, Okla. — On the heels of the tornadoes that hit central Oklahoma just last week, people closer to home are reflecting back on one that devastated a community in Green Country.

April 24 marks 30 years since an EF-4 tornado struck the small town of Catoosa. That day seven people lost their lives, and many others were injured.

“This is the one that hit home,” said Terri Miller, who survived the tornado.

“That was the worst one I’ve been through,” said Denus Benton, first responder during the tornado.

It was a Saturday afternoon in late April 1993.

It was stormy, but people were going about their day traveling, working, and watching tv, when suddenly the town of Catoosa lost power.

“At that time when your power went off, my TV came on, on the lowest channel on the dial, and it was Channel 2," Miller said. "It came back on and flashes 'Catoosa take cover right now,' and it was the weather map.”

At the advice of Channel 2 meteorologists, Terri Miller, a local florist, took shelter in her uncle's basement.

What she found when she came out shocked her. Cars were thrown around like toys, and businesses were destroyed.

“I had a vision in my head of my flower shop being completely flattened except for the cooler standing, which was not true at all," she said. "I was the only business in my building that really didn’t get any damage. I just had water damage.”

The tornado ripped down Cherokee Street, leaving a path of destruction. Despite that, the dispatch center was still standing. Now Fire Chief Denus Benton took cover at his home and then drove to the dispatch center to start first responder efforts, but once he drove up, this is what he found.

“They didn’t have any power. The lights were off that means the radios dead — everything,” he said.

Chief Benton tried to get the building's generator powered on, but the powerful storm with hail made it impossible.

“It was tearing me up. I didn’t realize how hard it hurts because I didn’t have a hat or nothing on," Chief Benton said. "I just remember it beating on the top of my head.”

So thinking quickly he grabbed a radio, went to the fire station, and kick-started his own search and rescue effort with the help of a trucker.

“A guy pulls up in a truck, and he’s got a CB radio. He’s telling me, 'hey, they are saying there’s wrecks and dead people on I-44 in between the 161st and 193rd.' So we start dispatching what resources we have at that time,” he explained.

That's when dozens of first responders with Catoosa and surrounding departments worked to reach people.

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In the end, the tornado killed seven people. The tragedy is still commemorated today with a marker at the old Bruce's Tulsa Truck Plaza location.

Reflecting back, Chief Benton and Miller said that terrible tragedy brought the community together, but looking forward...

“I just pray we don’t have it again,” Benton said.

“Not to wish this on anybody else, but I’m hoping that tornado alley has moved a little bit,” Miller said.

Although Fire Chief Benton said if one were to strike again, the town will be more prepared with the new technology out there today.

In fact, he said in the next couple of months, two sirens in town will be getting an upgrade.

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