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May 21. 2013 10:25PM

Keene Swamp Bats coach: Okla. tornado was close to home


A man and two children exit a shelter after debris was cleared from on top, after a huge tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, near Oklahoma City, Monday. A massive tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday, killing at least 51 people as winds of up to 200 mph flattened entire tracts of homes, two schools and a hospital, leaving a wake of tangled wreckage. (REUTERS/Richard Rowe)

Kevin Winterrowd saw golf ball-sized hail fall on a high school baseball field he should have been coaching on Monday, but meteorological madness pounded harder less than a half-hour's drive away in tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma.

"We were just catching the back end of the cloud that kicked down the tornado," Winterrowd, who will coach the Keene Swamp Bats this summer, said in a phone interview from Oklahoma on Tuesday.

"Had it turned in our direction, I was to get our kids into the (school's) main building."

Rescue workers Tuesday continued to look for survivors from a massive tornado that killed at least 24 people in Moore.

Winterrowd, 39, who will arrive in Keene on June 1, knows Moore well.

He coached West Moore High School's baseball team from 2004 to 2010 and taught students history there.

"It couldn't have hit at a worse place, just because it hit one of the more densely populated locations. It hit dead square in the middle of Moore," he said. "Everywhere it touched when it got into Moore was a home, a business or a school."

Before he taught at the school in Moore, a tornado damaged the school in 1999, but missed it this week.

After that 1999 tornado, the town "reinforced (school) hallways to withstand a tornado," he said.

"Everyone's who's been part of the Moore community and the Moore public schools remembers back to the (pre-fortified schools) and are crushed this could happen, especially to kids that age," he said, referring to fatalities at the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

"The schools made a concerted effort that no kids in that district face that again," he said. "Unfortunately, they're dealing with the heartbreak all over again."

Winterrowd, who now coaches at Mustang High School and was an assistant coach with the Swamp Bats in 2001, heard from two friends whose sons rode out the tornado in Briarwood Elementary School.

"All of them came out safe: bruised and rattled and just thankful to be alive," he said.

Tornadoes aren't foreign to Winterrowd.

"I've been near them; I don't stand out watching them," he said. "I've been within earshot and heard them, but certainly not in the path of one."

Winterrowd said an assistant coach returned Tuesday to his home, located between the two heavily damaged elementary schools in Moore.

"His home is totaled," said Winterrwood, adding that his coach's belongings probably were "scattered from here til probably Tulsa," a 115-mile span.

"The great thing about Oklahoma is these are great people and they really come out and help one another," he said. "You'll see a lot of positive things after the heartache of the past two days. You'll see some special things from the people of Oklahoma," he said.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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