Lando Hite, an exercise rider and caretaker at the Celestial Acres horse training facility, said his experience of living in Oklahoma’s “Tornado Alley” had likely saved his life: when the storm seemed to go quiet, he said, he knew that danger was imminent.
Hite, who lived and worked at the facility, told local CNN affiliate KFOR that he set several horses free to give them a fighting chance of escaping the storm, before fleeing to a stall himself. “I jumped into one of the stalls and they collapsed on top of me,” he said, shirtless and caked in mud. “It was unbearably loud, you could see stuff flying everywhere, just like in the movie Twister.”
The stalls and neighbouring barns sat right in the path of the tornado, which was estimated to be at least an F4 on the Fujita Scale of strength and intensity, which goes up to F5. The building in which Hite sheltered moved around 100 feet during the onslaught. Celestial Acres is part of the 106-acre Orr Family Farm, which was completely levelled by the storm. Hite estimated that the facility housed around 80 horses, most of which had been killed.
The Farm is a tourism destination, featuring a zip-line, miniature train, bouncy castles and attractions. Horses were not its only animal inhabitants. Tony Vann, press spokesman for the Farm, told The Independent, “They had llamas, pigs and goats, it was a full petting zoo… [Celestial Acres] is a paddock for other people to keep their horses, so the number of horses is always changing. The records are at the Farm, and that’s gone.”
The owners, Doctor Glenn Orr and his son Tom, confirmed on their Facebook page that they and their staff were safe. “We are physically alright,” they said, “but we have sustained a large amount of damage at the Farm and adjacent properties. We are still assessing damage to both properties and animals.”