The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

May 21, 2013

In tornado's wake, worried parents seek out kids

(Continued)

Shelli Smith had to walk miles to find her children. She was reunited with her 14-year-old daughter, Tiauna, around 5 p.m. Monday, but hadn't yet seen her 16-year-old son, TJ, since he left for school that morning.

TJ's phone had died, but he borrowed a classmate's phone to tell his mother where he was. However, Smith couldn't get to him due to the roadblocks. So she parked her car and started walking.

It took her three hours, but a little after sunset, she found him. She grabbed her son and squeezed him in a tight hug that lasted for several seconds before letting go. TJ hugged his sister, and then hugged his mom again.

The family had a long walk back to their car and then home, but she said she didn't mind.

"I was trying to get him and they wouldn't let me," she said, adding later: "I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to get my son.'"

Renee Lee summed up the struggle for many parents with multiple children — find the ones who they hadn't yet seen, while calming the younger ones they had with them.

Lee is the mother of two daughters Sydney Walker, 16, and Hannah Lee, 8. When the storm came, she tried to pick Sydney up from school. Sydney told her on the phone that they wouldn't let her come in. While Lee and her younger daughter waited in their home, which wasn't hit, Sydney was safe in the room at a local high school.

Lee said she believed Sydney wasn't hurt and seemed resigned to the severe weather outbreaks.

"There's been so many of them, it doesn't even faze me," she said. "You just do what you gotta do. It's part of living here."

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Associated Press reporters Jeannie Nuss and Chuck Bartels in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

 

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