Bank Vault Tornado: 24 People Take Shelter In Vault, Saved From Deadly Oklahoma Twister

By Philip Ross on May 22, 2013 12:05 PM EDT

bank vault tornado
A bank vault in Tinker Federal Credit Union’s Moore branch sheltered 24 people during the deadly Oklahoma tornado, sparing them from the twister. The Oklahoma tornado has claimed two dozen lives and injured hundreds more. (Photo: Facebook/Tinker Federal Credit)

A bank vault sheltered more than 20 people during the deadly Oklahoma tornado, sparing them from the twister. All that was left of the 6,387-square-foot branch was the bank vault, surrounded by piles of splintered rubble, Credit Union Times reports.

When the Oklahoma tornado struck, 24 people -- 14 employees and 10 bank members -- holed themselves up in the bank vault of Tinker Federal Credit Union's Moore branch. They huddled together in the small chamber as the twister ripped through the area. It is unclear whether the bank was directly in the path of the Oklahoma tornado, or somewhere along its periphery.

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Survivors Emerge From Battered Bank Vault

Once the tornado passed, first responders arrived at the bank and removed debris that blocked the bank vault's entrance. The 24 survivors dispersed, except for the bank manager, who stayed behind to lock up and secure the vault.

"The safe deposit boxes in the vault are safe and locked up, and it is under 24/7 security watch," Matt Stratton, vice president of marketing for the credit union, told Credit Union Times. "We will figure out a way to get members access to their safe deposit boxes, but access to the location is limited right now."

The credit union announced on its website that the Moore branch, located at 400 S.W. 6th Street, will be closed indefinitely.

NPR reports that the EF5 tornado that barreled through the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City claimed two dozen lives, including seven elementary school children. According to NPR, two schools and a hospital, as well as hundreds of homes, were directly in the path of the massive twister, and that neither of the schools had safe rooms or basements.

Bank Vaults Great For Shelter -- Even During Atomic Bomb

Bank vaults, like the one that survived the Oklahoma tornado, are often made from steel-reinforced concrete, almost like a bomb shelter. A bank vault even survived the 1945 atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan.

"Though the surface of the vault doors were heavily damaged, its contents were not affected at all and the cash and important documents were perfectly saved," the Teikoku Bank Hiroshima branch manager wrote to the U.S.-based Mosler Safe Company, who manufactured the bank vault, in a letter dated May 22, 1950.

Tinker Federal Credit Union posted photos of the decimated bank -- and the bank vault, surrounded by crumbled walls, that saved 24 people -- to its Facebook page.

"This is the vault where 14 TFCU employees and eight members rode out yesterday's tornado in Moore and emerged safely afterward," a message below one of the photos reads.

"Every home in Moore needs one!" Facebook user Julie Beck commented on the photo of the freestanding bank vault.

"Looks like a miracle to me!" Tabatha Smith Waybright wrote.

"I was one of the members in the vault yesterday," Dena Clark wrote. "You all should be so proud of your employees! Everyone, especially Jan the branch manager, acted so heroically to keep everyone safe. I am so thankful! Our family loves TFCU!"

Where To Hide To During Tornado

During a tornado, some places are safer to hole up in than others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends taking shelter in the interior part of a basement. But, if there is no basement in the home, a room at the center of the house, one that is away from windows and on the lowest floor (could be a center hallway, closet or bathroom), is second best.

To further protect you, the CDC suggests getting underneath something sturdy, like a heavy table. Cover your body with a blanket or mattress, and protect your head.

"The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle," the CDC reports. "Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds."

If you are caught in a tornado while driving in the car, exit your vehicle and find a ditch or gully to lie down in. Use your hands or a heavy object to protect your head.

Read more from iScience Times:

Oklahoma Tornado Video: Raw Footage Of Devastating Twister [VIDEO]

Dog Found On Live TV: See Heartwarming Reunion As Oklahoma Tornado Survivor Finds Pet Dog [VIDEO]

Texas Tornadoes: At Least 6 Dead, Hundreds Injured; How Intense Was The Storm? [VIDEO]

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