Discuss as:

From bathtubs to closets, see where Oklahoma residents sheltered from the deadly tornado

Using the controls above, explore this interactive picture. Dean St. Onge and his wife Melania were hiding in this closet when the tornado approached until they heard the local newscaster say "If you're not underground, you will not survive". They jumped in their car and outran the storm. (Kael Alford for NBC News)

Dean and Melania St. Onge, who have been married for 25 years, were hiding in a closet with their dogs Pokie and Shaila as the tornado approached their house in Moore, Okla. They planned to ride out the storm, holding hands.

They left the television blasting in the next room so they could hear the local newscasters' report on the weather. When a meteorologist said, “If you’re not underground now, you will not survive,” Dean decided he and Melania — and the dogs — should make a run for it.

When they got outside, they could see the twister on the other side of the street. Melania lost her shoe, but there was no time to pick it up, nor time to get Dean’s brand new car out of the garage, so they jumped in Melania's Durango and sped off northeast, opposite the storm’s path.

“I thought, ‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,’" Dean said. “They always tell you not to get in your car and drive.”

They made a loop around the storm, and 15 minutes later, were back on their street after the tornado passed. The closet where they had been hiding was punctured by wood beams and metal poles. “We don’t think we would have survived,” Dean said.

Kael Alford for NBC News

Melania St. Onge painted a sign on the family driveway. "You can take our home, but not our heart." The couple plans to rebuild outside of Moore.

The St. Onges said they won’t rebuild in Moore, after three tornadoes in 15 years touched down there. They were frustrated with how difficult it was to reach their house and protect their property from the elements or theft after the storm, due to road blocks by local police. Dean doesn't want to be caught unprepared next time. "We'll definitely build a storm shelter - one hundred percent!" he said.

Phil Tinnin and Dianna Tinnin, brother and sister, were at home a few blocks from the St. Onges when Phil decided it was time to take shelter. He had been living with his older sister Dianna since his divorce five months earlier. During that period, Dianna learned that she was gravely ill and required a liver transplant to survive. Without health insurance or the means to find the radical treatment she needed, she was resigned to home hospice care instead.

Kael Alford for NBC News

Phil Tinnin stands in the bathroom where he rode out the tornado with his sister Dianna, who is in hospice care.

Phil said Dianna got up to get a glass of water as the storm approached, but he told her there was no time. “I grabbed her and took her to the tub, and put blankets under us and on top of us both.”

Phil shielded her with his body when the storm hit, “It was ten times louder than Niagara Falls.” Dianna saw glass flying toward them, and grabbed a pillow to put over her brother’s head. “I felt the wind pulling at me,” Phil said. “I held onto the soap dish like a handle and the edge of the tub to keep it from sucking me out.” Then the roof collapsed and slammed him down on the edge of the tub, breaking some of his teeth. Bricks, wood boards and drywall landed on his back, which was already injured. When the storm passed, Phil dug himself out from the rubble and called the police with the one call he had left before his battery died. When the police arrived, they helped get Dianna out of the house by lifting her over a wall. She didn’t have a scratch.  “When I came out, I heard people screaming under the rubble,” Phil said. “It was the worst thing I ever heard.”

Kael Alford for NBC News

A room in Phil and Dianna Tinnin's house, where Dianna kept some of her angel and teddy bear collections. The house lost the entire roof.

“If Phil hasn’t been there, I wouldn’t have gotten in the tub.” Dianna said. “I would stayed in my bed,” she said. The roof of her bedroom collapsed and the wind threw her bed outside.

They had no insurance on their house. The brother and sister are sharing a hotel room that they pay from their own pocket, for now. They are interviewing with FEMA in hopes of getting help with temporary housing and their losses.  Phil, a former police officer and car salesman, is unable to work due to his previous back injury and the new injuries have compounded that. Dianna says Phil has nightmares and talks in his sleep, waking up shouting since the storm.

“Last night in his sleep he said, ‘I just hurt, my back hurts so bad. I don’t want to be a burden.' I told him, 'The main thing is that we’re both still here, and we’re still talking.'"

Hospice has been checking on Dianna at the hotel and will continue to visit her there — for now.

 

More tornado coverage:
Slideshow: Tornadoes ravage Plains

Two more funerals Friday for Oklahoma schoolchildren
Tornado-ravaged city of Moore, Okla., to hold Sunday memorial