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One marina destroyed, another escapes untouched

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Tornado that leveled Little River Marina on Oklahoma's Lake Thunderbird tossed boats a mile or more

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The owner of an Oklahoma marina that was demolished this spring by a tornado vows to rebuild his business no matter how long it takes.

"We'll rebuild," says Bob Davis, who has owned Little River Marina on Lake Thunderbird in Norman for 20 years. "Right now, we're cleaning up. It was a total loss."

Most of the 230 to 250 boats occupying the marina's slips were destroyed or severely damaged, and the May 10 twister leveled the marina building and its docks, says Davis. "The customers are handling it pretty well, and most have their own insurance," says Davis, who spoke May 28 with Soundings Trade Only. "Many of them have volunteered to help us out, but right now we're not at that stage where we can let anyone get involved besides professionals. But we'll be at that stage in about a month."

Davis says his insurance company, Zurich, has been very helpful in the recovery process. There was nobody on the floating docks or aboard their boats when the tornado struck in late afternoon that Monday. "We had no injuries or anything. It was amazing," says Davis, whose marina had powerboats, sailboats and houseboats, with an average size of 20 to 25 feet, he says.

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The tornado that hit the lake - which has 86 miles of shoreline and is part of Thunderbird State Park - was one of several that touched down, killing five and injuring dozens across Oklahoma. At least six EF-3 tornadoes (wind speeds from 135 to 165 mph) were reported to have touched down in the western two-thirds of the state. Little River Marina received some of the most catastrophic damage.

"I've never seen anything like this before," says Kris Marek, director of Oklahoma State Parks. "[Little River Marina] must have been in the direct line of travel of the tornado, because the boats that were at the marina were capsized and stacked on top of each other under the water, so they were not visible the day after the tornado came through."

The tornado not only sank Little River's boats but also tossed them around the lake, says Marek.

"The Lake Patrol, which is a division of the Highway Patrol, found at least 15 of them in other parts of the lake," Marek says. "They were physically picked up and deposited in other locations - some of them up to a mile or more [away]."

Undamaged sections of the park have reopened, and the state has posted warning signs at the boat ramps, urging boaters to be cautious of debris. The tornado caused about $2 million in damage to the park, says Marek.

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There is only one other marina on the lake - Calypso Cove, which is almost directly south of Little River on the other end of the 6,070-acre lake. "Our facility, our floating docks and our dry-storage building - all of it was untouched," says Calypso Cove owner Mark Zahourek. "We had a couple trees down, and that's it. You can look across the lake a mile-and-a-half and see the path of the tornado. It went from west to east and ... completely demolished [Little River Marina]. We escaped by about a mile-and-a-half of water. It was the luckiest day of our life."

Marek was unaware of any other marinas in the state that suffered tornado damage.

None of the 10 park employees or the handful of visitors were injured, says Marek. "Luckily, it was a Monday, and things are quiet on Mondays," she says.

Environmental damage has been kept to a minimum, with the state placing a boom around the perimeter of the marina area the day after the tornado hit. Little River Marina's 1,900-gallon fuel tank crashed through its concrete containment area and ended up on the shoreline, says Marek. State workers say there was no loss of fuel.

Marek says the marina's fuel tank installation was up to code, which also helped. "As soon as the lines were extracted from the fuel tank, all the shutoff valves worked, and it really minimized the loss of fuel," says Marek.

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The boats and their loads of fuel were more of a concern. "We pulled boats that were considered an environmental hazard in the first three or four days at a considerable cost to us," says Davis.

The lake is used for drinking water, and tests showed the water to be uncontaminated, says Marek.

Davis describes his marina as a "little city," where everyone knows and cruises with one another. "Everyone wants to help out as much as they can because they want us to hurry up and build the new marina so they can be back out on the water," he says. "We're hoping to be back by [next] April."

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.

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