The Road to Recovery: An Oklahoma Story


Kyle and Gina Janzen, Oklahoma tornado survivors, receive individual assistance at a Multi-Agency Resource Center in Moore, Okla., after being devastated by the May 20, 2013, tornado. Anna Kate Twitty/American Red Cross

The kids were very scared, and we kept telling them that it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.

On May 20, Gina Janzen, a second-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Okla., was told by school administrators that there was going to be a tornado and to begin implementing the school’s tornado plan. Janzen immediately had her students begin their tornado precautions and moved everyone—including her own two children—to the center of her classroom.

After discovering that they were in the direct line of impact, Janzen and her fellow teachers decided to move all of the children to the bathroom, which at the time seemed to be the safest location. Janzen believes that this last-minute decision saved everyone’s lives that day in their classrooms.

As Janzen huddled in the bathroom with her children, they put dictionaries over their head and sang the national anthem.

“As soon as that was over, you could hear the tornado very loudly,” said Janzen. “The kids were very scared, and we kept telling them that it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”

As feared, the tornado went right over Janzen’s school and suctioned the roof and walls right off of their foundation.

“A lot of the kids lost their dictionaries; they flew up into the tornado and then everything just collapsed on top of us, and we were buried in the rubble,” said Janzen.

That day, Janzen’s school, home and community where devastated. Thankfully, Janzen and all of the children and teachers at Briarwood Elementary School were rescued by first responders and survived the horrifying tornado.

Three weeks later, Janzen and her family continue their road to recovery. Just like hundreds of other families throughout Oklahoma, the Janzens sought help at a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) in Moore, which is operated by the American Red Cross. The MARCs provide one location for people to access a variety of disaster relief services from multiple agencies, including the Red Cross, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Dell Computer Corporation, Catholic Charities, The NAACP and Save the Children.

When talking about her experience at the MARC, Janzen said, “It was very organized; we went from station to station with a person, getting all of the assistance and financial help that you can get with housing needs and financial needs. It was definitely a blessing.”

Recovering after a disaster does not happen alone or through only one organization. The Red Cross is working diligently with its partners to make the recovery process as easy and efficient as possible. There are several MARCs operating in hard-hit areas across Oklahoma. In addition, the Red Cross continues to shelter, feed, distribute relief supplies and provide emotional support and health services to people in Oklahoma.

It will be a long road to recovery, but the Red Cross will be there as long as needed to help Oklahomans get back on their feet.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.