By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When Jerry Mosley looks out the window of his small office in a cramped trailer that is now Control Flow Inc.’s Oklahoma headquarters, he can see clearly the pieces of the horrific past that forced him into the temporary lodging.
There’s the bulldozing equipment that was used to clear out the debris. The chewed-up dirt where the warehouse used to rest. The blank slab where a house once stood before the deadly tornado uprooted everything. It’s a constant reminder of the humid May afternoon that forever changed the lives of Mosley and the 10 people who were with him that day.
As the May 20th tornado that would eventually claim 23 lives and cleave a huge swath through Moore headed toward Mosley and Control Flow, the general manager quickly gathered his employees and made a split-second decision that would save their lives. Rather than allow anyone to leave in an attempt to escape the storm — an action he said would have led them straight into its path — he took them on a brisk walk down the road, to Sally Horn’s home.
Horn and her husband Ronnie founded Control Flow and built their house on the same property. It was the home they planned to retire in, and the couple did just that after selling Control Flow several years ago, though they remained active in the business. When Ronnie died in January, Sally continued to live in the same house and regularly visited with Mosley and the company she helped create.
On this day, it was Mosley who visited her. He and the nine other people who were at the office that day believed at first they would just watch the storm pass by; Mosley even snapped a few pictures of it on his phone.
But before long it was clear that the EF-5 tornado was heading straight for them, and soon it was clear exactly why Mosley brought them to Horn: anxious about the tornado that ravaged Moore a decade earlier, Horn had put in a storm shelter large enough to accommodate a dozen people.
It was a decision that saved the lives of everyone there that day. The tornado ripped through the property, leaving only a few walls of Horn’s home standing while obliterating everything at Control Flow. Most of what had stood was simply gone — office files would be recovered as far away as Tulsa — while what remained was unrecognizable. Cars were wrapped around trees, wrapped around steel beams, all coated in slick oil and insulation.
But, emerging from the shelter into a new world, there was only one thing that mattered to Mosley.
“We’re just blessed that we all got out alive,” he said. “I never want to relive that again. Like they say, you can replace all the material things, but you can’t replace human life.”
Mosley, Horn and the others had their lives, but not their livelihood. Control Flow lay in pieces around them, and the cleanup process would take months.
The first step was to recover everything they could from the wreckage.
“Our business had a lot of small components we had to try and recover, so you couldn’t just take a bulldozer and clear it all out,” Mosley said. “We had to go through and handpick everything to try and salvage what we could. Those first two weeks to two months were a huge process of removing debris.”
Most of the property was a total loss. What remained of Horn’s house — a few walls, half a bedroom, whatever mementos she could rescue — had to come down, as did all that was left of Control Flow. It took 30 truckloads to finally clear away the debris and give the company a clean piece of land.
The recovery effort crippled the business. While Control Flow’s parent company in Houston guaranteed every employee a job, there wasn’t a job to do. As Mosley and the company’s dozen employees were forced to work out of a secretary’s home, most of its customers left, unable to stick with a company that didn’t have a warehouse to fulfill orders. Two employees left as well.
“You don’t know how to handle it until you’re put in that situation,” Mosley said. “You just try to take it one day, one week, one month at a time. As those days and weeks and months pass, every one feels like an accomplish to get through while we’re getting out from underneath our situation.”
Horn, too, was forced to move on. She left her dream home with its white picket fence and backyard pond and bought a house a few miles away to be closer to her grandchildren, living with her son and daughter-in-law for six weeks while she waited to move in.
She still has the property where her house once stood, but doubts she’ll ever return.
“Those first few days after it happened, I felt like I was living in my car,” she said. “When I moved in I started with just a mattress, a recliner and a TV with rabbit ears. But I’ve gotten more comfortable, and my grandchildren all live within three blocks of me.”
As shell-shocked as Mosley and Horn were, one thing they never lacked for was support.
It came from everywhere. Volunteers from Horn’s church and from across the country were constantly on hand. They helped her save a few precious items from her home, including a pair of tables she owned, one made by her grandmother and another by her son.
News outlets across the world picked up her story, and so too did their viewers. Horn exchanged several letters with a woman from Scotland who saw her on the BBC.
“Those letters were very encouraging,” she said. “It’s been a process, but I’m thankful for all the help we’ve had. We’re blessed that we were all safe. It’s been a hot summer and it’s going to be a long, hard winter for the employees, but I’m so glad to know there will be another Control Flow.”
Thanks to the hard work of Mosley and others, it’s a dream Horn can be confident of. Because it’s not just pieces of the past Mosley can see when he looks out his window; there’s also a glimpse of a brighter future.
Mosley is confident the customers will come back. Horn’s barn has been rebuilt. A new fence lines the six acres of land. Where a flattened warehouse once stood, there’s now a team of builders laying the foundation of a new, larger building. The old building was 12,000 square feet; the new one should be completed by March and will be triple the size and come outfitted with the latest equipment.
“It took a tornado, but we needed an upgrade and now we’re getting it,” Mosley said. “We’re regrouping and are going to come back stronger and better. Morale is higher. The day we walk into that new office and leave to go home, that’s when it will feel like we’ve finally made it.”
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