Former Marlow residents and May 3, 1999 Del City survivor ‘Always grateful to be alive’

by Toni Hopper

Carolyn Burch spent Friday, May 3, watching televised replays of the 1999 tornado. At times she felt anxious. Carolyn was a victim of that historic storm and this year was the 25th anniversary of the storm.

It was also another year she was grateful to be alive and blessed for the many memories she and husband, Dale have made throughout the decades.

Both Carolyn and Dale graduated from Marlow in the 1960s, he was Class of 1963, and she in 1964. They were high school sweethearts. They have been residents in Del City for most of their married life. He’s 80 and she is 78. Recounting the day of the storm, she said, “I had a brain concussion and a crushed pelvis. My mother called from Marlow, and my sister was in Jones. They told me they were watching the live news and saw me being placed on a door when I was rescued.”

Dale, who drove a route for Borden’s, was returning home from work and was on I-40 when the tornado was approaching their Del City home. Based off various news articles from that storm, in piecing Carolyn’s story together, it was a miracle she survived.

Carolyn remembers hearing the tornado approaching, grabbed her pets and headed for a bedroom closet. She made it almost to the bed. The tornado completely leveled not only her home but the entire neighborhood, Del Aire, on Montrose Drive.

When Dale finally reached the neighborhood, he wasn’t prepared for the war zone rubble of destruction. He couldn’t even find their home, Carolyn said. A man suggested they begin looking at the curbs for the house numbers. Once he found their home, or what was left of it, other individuals in the area told him they saw Carolyn being rescued. They had found her under debris in a neighbor’s yard. It wasn’t until 4:30 a.m. the following morning that he found Carolyn.

According to a story in The Oklahoman from 2000, three men from Tinker Air Force Base had rescued Carolyn, put her in the back of their pickup and transported her to a hospital. She was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit in Presbyterian Hospital.

Carolyn said it was the same hospital she had worked at for many years. She spent the first 24 hours in a coma and it was nearly a week before she could remember everything. Another six weeks in rehab, and thanks to her loyal and dedicated husband, relatives and the hospital staff, she slowly recovered. But her challenges were only beginning. They had no home. While she was in the hospital, Dale did his best to sift through the rubble to recover anything from their life together. There wasn’t much to salvage. He found a few pieces of tea service they bought when in Germany, a toy teapot that belonged to their daughter, and some jewelry. Dale is a Vietnam veteran.

Carolyn and Dale have truly weathered the storm and clung to each other over the years. When Carolyn calls The Review (which she does at least once a month), she shares tidbits of their lives and the joy they get when their paper arrives. Dale was a star football player and she was in choir. She said not many of their old classmates are still alive and these days, they are just blessed to wake up each day.

It was one year after that May 3, 1999 tornado when they returned to their old neighborhood to start over. Their current home was the first one built after the neighborhood was destroyed. It gives her some comfort, but she said, when the sirens sound, she still gets anxious. “We have one of those above ground shelters (a safe room). We use it. We can just walk right into it.”

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