News / USA

Foreign Students in Oklahoma Confront Tornado Threat

A tornado-damaged bedroom with clothes hanging in the closet is pictured in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma May 22, 2013.
A tornado-damaged bedroom with clothes hanging in the closet is pictured in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma May 22, 2013.
For many Americans in the nation’s center, tornadoes are a frightening fact of life. But for foreign students, usually from countries where tornadoes never occur, twisters can be an even scarier experience. Such was the case this past Monday when a tornado devastated the U.S. town of Moore, Oklahoma, killing at least 24 people and leaving thousands homeless.

“It was such a bad thing to see and experience,” says Manoj Venkatesan, a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma.  Venkatesan, who is from India, was about 13 kilometers away from the tornado.  “We had heard the alert for 10 minutes before the tornado.  As soon as we heard the siren, I went to the campus and then went down the basement.  It was scary.”

When he heard the siren go off, he did not expect the tornado to be as big and damaging as it was. Venkatesan says he hopes life returns back to normal soon.

The University of Oklahoma is about 16 kilometers from Moore and near Oklahoma City, the largest city in the southwestern state.  Oklahoma is in a region often referred to as Tornado Alley - which stretches from Texas north toward Canada and east toward Ohio and Kentucky.  Those areas frequently experience tornadoes - violent rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground.  They can travel scores of kilometers, destroying buildings in their path.

Most communities in the central United States use sirens to alert people of an approaching tornado. Once the siren goes off, people are urged to take shelter - usually in basements or in sturdy buildings.

Sitta Tarawally is from Sierra Leone and an international student at the University of Oklahoma. “I was at the university and went to the basement after the siren went on,” she said.  In Oklahoma, people expect tornadoes every now and then, she said, adding she could tell that something was different about it.  “We expected something worse than before,” she said.

Another international student, Mohammed Aldabbous, says few natural disasters happen in his country, Saudi Arabia, so this was his first time he experienced such a storm.  He was 10 minutes away from the tornado.  “When I heard the siren going on, it was a tragedy, I was shocked,” he said.  Aldabbous said that luckily, the place where he stayed was not damaged.

“I saw the tornado from away and heard the siren everywhere.  It was scary,” Aldabbous said. “I feel very sorry about what happened in Oklahoma.”

The University of Oklahoma, which just finished its spring semester, has opened its dormitories to people who lost their homes.  People and companies have started to donate money to help the tornado victims, and President Barack Obama has promised that Oklahomans will get the aid they need.  President Obama travels to Moore this Sunday to meet with survivors and first responders and get a firsthand look at the devastation.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs