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Fennelly: Tornado hits close to home for Bucs' McCoy

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Published:   |   Updated: May 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Fourteen years ago this month, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wasn't a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. He was just another terrified child. He was 11. He was with his family in their Oklahoma City home, in a closet, then in a bathtub. He heard the warning sirens. The monster was outside, brushing by, coming within a few miles. He heard it shriek.

Meteorologists later said winds measured 318 mph, the highest ever recorded on this planet. The monster pulverized the next town over: Moore, Okla. It killed 36 people in the Oklahoma City area.

Ten days ago, McCoy heard the news again — it was Moore again — Moore, a place McCoy says is five minutes from where he grew up in Oklahoma City. It was another F5 tornado, three miles wide, 17 miles long, a deadly thresher that obliterated entire subdivisions, thousands of homes, and scores of other buildings, including two elementary schools. Twenty-four people died, 10 of them children, and nearly 400 were injured.

“It's like déjà vu,” McCoy said Wednesday after Bucs practice. “As you know, I'm from there, and it happened a little more than 10 years ago. I remember it as a kid, my dad taking me to see everything. It's really like déjà vu. It's devastating.”

McCoy is about his football business, but his heart is 1,200 miles away. It's also supposed to be about his upcoming wedding, a month from now, back home. Now there are other things, more important things, not that McCoy needed a tornado to tell him what matters, or how lucky he is, or we are. Well, maybe some of us do.

Here's an Oklahoman, a son of the Sooner State, born and raised. Here's the town next to his, in ruins.

McCoy was overtaken by this latest tornado. He had all his people back home. That Monday, May 20, he frantically reached out.

“Calling, texting, emailing, everything, because I've got to know,” he said. “I've got to know what's going on.”

He tracked down family and friends. It took a while with a few of them, but they were OK. One had a close brush, when the tornado took apart Moore Medical Center, where she was a patient.

“I had Auntie at hospital, but she got out,” McCoy said.

He watched CNN, hour after hour. And it hit him: This twister took roughly the same path as the one on May 3, 1999, when McCoy was 11.

“It's tornado country. When it comes, you get ready for it,” McCoy said. “We've had one go right by where I was staying, skip right over us. Tornadoes, they do it like that.”

There's no way to explain a tornado if you haven't been close to one. Scientific measures are inadequate, though the latest killer in Moore, by one estimate, released 600 times more energy than the atomic bombs that ended World War II. One survivor from this tornado called it a “giant black wall of destruction.” It's not “The Wizard of Oz.” It's not computer magic from “Twister.”

It's someone in a closet or a tub, trying to put as many walls as possible between them and the monster. It's an 11-year-old, hearing sirens, thinking his world is about to blow away. Think of a child's fear. Then think of what just happened, again. “It took the same route,” Gerald McCoy repeated. “Why does it keep hitting the same spot?” There's no way to explain that, either.

McCoy will return to Oklahoma in a few weeks, to get married, but first to help. He has already made a donation to relief and recovery, as have the Bucs. McCoy aims to be more hands on when he gets home. He'll gather supplies, or raise more funds, help rebuild, drive a nail with a hammer if need be.

“I'm going to do whatever I can to help,” McCoy said. “I'm going to get to work.”

He added, “It's my home and I love it.”

Sooner Strong.

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