For a short time on March 6, 2017, Melanie Salmon's mind raced anxiously.
That day, she had gone north to Albany, Missouri, to visit her parents, taking her and husband Adam's two youngest children with her.
Adam, the principal at Oak Grove High School, had taken their two oldest children – despite their initial objections – to the student music concert at school. So, fortunately, nobody was a home when a tornado roared through Oak Grove in the dark that evening, destroying the duplex on Grove Street they were renting while having a house built, as well as many other residences nearby.
“I saw on the news that Oak Grove was a head-on hit,” Salmon said, and when she got Adam on the phone and asked if they were OK, he could only say “Yes, but …” before he got cut off. Then, she started receiving pictures of the duplex from friends.
“There were a few minutes there where I was in panic,” she said.
When she got hold of Adam again, she learned they had taken shelter in a safe room at the school. In addition, neighbors had found the family dog, which had been in the basement and came out with hardly a scratch.
The twister, which first touched down outside Grain Valley and stayed on the ground for 13 miles, leaving further damage in Odessa in Lafayette County, destroyed or damaged 482 homes or businesses. The tornado was determined to be an EF-3, with winds up to 150 mph, but incredibly it left just a few minor injuries and no deaths. Those who were home had heard the alarms – and possibly saw on television news what was coming, too – and took shelter in time.
Because of that good fortune and the community's effort to quickly clean up and rebuild, the Oak Grove Chamber of Commerce hosted a one-year anniversary gathering Tuesday at the city's civic center, an event that included presentations from a local television station.
Salmon said most of the family's pictures had been in the basement and survived the destruction. They were able to salvage some clothes, and the family found a new place to stay until their house was finished. Their former duplex, like all others on Grove Street, was rebuilt.
For a community to have reason to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a devastating tornado strike, she said, is incredible.
“I think it's just a miracle,” she said. “Except for God, that's the only explanation. Lots of amazing moments.”
“It's been remarkable, the stories that came out of this,” Mayor Jeremy Martin told the crowd of at least a couple hundred.
Gary Baker, a retired State Highway Patrol officer, said he had been outside and thinking the severe weather threat would expire without incident. Then, his sister in Excelsior Springs called and said she saw the tornado was in Grain Valley. He made it down the basement stairs with his girlfriend and their dog at their home on 25th Street just as the tornado hit.
The dog couldn't go outside for awhile due to debris, and even suffered some PTSD, Baker said, and he couldn't board up one window in the back because of all the trees that blocked the way.
But his house was still structurally OK, and after siding, deck, window, carpet and roof repairs, he had paid a sum nearly identical to the $91,000 he paid for the house in 1991.
“I got a new house for the same amount,” he said.
But more importantly, he said, was the good fortune with life and health and citizens' roll-up-the-sleeves response.
“The community was great, and all the emergency services.”