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Osage veteran survives EF4 'train'

Felix Clary
ICT+Tulsa World

TULSA, Okla. – An Osage elder’s granddaughter pushed him into his storm shelter and held the door as the wind tried to rip it off and sweep both of them away.

“When you hear the train, it’s too late. You better be underground, because the trains are coming,” he told ICT and Tulsa World.

The Barnsdall EF4 tornado came to John Henry Mashunkashey’s front door late at night May 6.

“The train has no pity. The train has no heart. That’s the sound you hear. Rain, hail, then quietness, and then you hear the train,” said Mashunkashey.

This is the second time Mashunkashey heard this foreboding sound in his life. The first time, he was just a child, and a tornado tore up his family’s outhouses, but this time, he was the landowner and homeowner.

The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed six fatalities related to storms in April and May. Two were in Holdenville (mobile home), one on Interstate 35 near Marietta (vehicle), one in Sulphur (business), and two in Barnsdall.

Mashunkashey lost three vehicles and his home on May 6.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 375 injuries have been reported by area hospitals statewide as a result of the April and May storms.

“It took the roof. It knocked out the windows, the walls, the garage, but we were untouched,” Mashunkashey said. “We didn’t get a scratch.”

As a Vietnam War veteran, loss is no stranger to him. He is in recovery now from the grief of losing his home, but he said he is in good spirits.

“All the organizations in and around Oklahoma, and all over the United States, came in and did everything you can think to make it comfortable for displaced people, like me. I don’t have a home, but I’ve got a place to stay.”

Mashunkashey is staying with his son in Barnsdall. He said his vehicles were insured, so he feels at peace with losing them.

Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear (left), principal chief of the Osage Nation, shakes hands with Chris Turley (Osage) who was volunteering May 9 to clean up John Henry Mashunkashey's home after it was destroyed Monday, May 6, 2024, in Barnsdall, Okla. (Mike Simons, Tulsa World)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted a damage assessment for Osage County, finding that 52 homes were destroyed after the May 6 tornado, 16 homes sustained major damage, and minor damage was found in another 19 homes.

The rescue teams had the remains of Mashunkashey’s home demolished and cleaned up three days after the tornado struck.

“It’s like there was an army of ants that came in there and started picking up everything that didn’t grow. There’s a stack of trash two stories high. Other than that, Barnsdall is going to be there. They’re going to rebuild. They’re good people, very resilient. Barnsdall strong.”

This story is co-published by the Tulsa World and ICT, a news partnership that covers Indigenous communities in the Oklahoma area.

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