Family, horses survive El Reno tornado, house does not

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EL RENO, Okla. - When tornado survivors describe what a tornado sounds like, freight train is usually the first thing that comes to mind.

For the Gustafsons in El Reno, what they heard was what let them know they were about to come out of their safe room to a total loss.

"You can definitely hear the freight train sound and the buffeting in your ears," Gustafson said. "And then it, there was just like a poof where the pressure dropped and you knew that cool air started coming in that things were gone."

Friday night they were hit by not one but two tornadoes.

"Our phones started blowing up again and there are alerts on our phones that started going off," Gustafson said. "We thought that it was just because of the area but people said, 'No, there's another one at the airport, get back in your safe room,' and we just barely got back in there when the second one hit."

When they finally got to really look at the damage they found some of the strangest things.

"The bedspread, the toss pillows, everything was in perfect order," Gustafson said. "Like I had made the bed this morning but everything's gone."

In the rain they went into overdrive trying to salvage what they could.

"I tried to grab keepsake stuff, valuables, pictures and sentimental stuff," Gustafson said as she cried. "But you know, you're just in a daze. I'm still probably not totally sane."

They've owned their property in El Reno for 13 years but their house was brand new.

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They have to rebuild fast because their livelihood depends on their ranch.

Starland Ranch is home to 30 horses.

Annee Gustafson raises and shows Quarter horses.

"It's a 24/7 job," said Gustafson. "Twelve hours a day. We start in the morning at 6 and then we are usually out at the barn until midnight."

The Gustafsons share an overwhelming love for animals.

So after the storms, their first concern was the barn.

Annee couldn't stand to stay in their safe room in between the two storms.

"My husband had to drag me back in there," said Gustafson. "I know I couldn't save them but he kept saying, 'If you're not alive, you can't help them,' and that was very hard for me."

Thankfully, all 30 horses survived the night with only minor cuts and bruises.

"It's a miracle that none of them were hurt," said Gustafson. "The mares weren't watching out for the babies and they were slamming against the walls and everything."

Earlier in the day she didn't have to look at weather forecast to know something was coming.

"Horses can even sense when a storm is coming and they have different behaviors," said Gustafson. "Some just run and buck and some are just nervous and don't eat. You can usually predict the weather to some degree by how the horses are acting."

James Gustafson said he knows how hurt his wife would have been if anything would have happened to the horses.

He said he understands just how lucky they were.

"We've been real fortunate," said Gustafson. "So we just pick up the pieces and keep working and we'll get there. We're fortunate. There are a lot of people who are hurting worse than us that need more help than us."

Annee Gustafson is hugging her animals a little tighter now.

"I'm very blessed," said Gustafson. "I'm elated that all my babies are still here."

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