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Marina recovers from devastating tornado

Nineteen days after an F-4 tornado ripped through Little River Marina in Norman, Okla., damaging 200-plus boats, owner Bob Davis and a team of 20 professionals are slowly picking up the pieces.

"We've gotten several of the docks out and dismantled ... they were just wrapped up together in a big pile," Davis said in a phone interview with Soundings. "Thankfully there was no one at the marina when it happened, which is pretty unheard of. No one was harmed, so we were really fortunate."

Davis said he plans to rebuild the Lake Thunderbird marina and said his insurance company, Zurich, has been helpful in the recovery process. Most of the 230 boats occupying the marina's slips were destroyed or severely damaged in addition to the marina building and docks. Davis said the marina fleet included about 100 sailboats, a 70-foot houseboat, and average vessel length of 20 to 25 feet.

"We had four cruisers on one dock that we've only been able to find pieces of," said Davis.

"The customers are handling it pretty well, and most have their own insurance," he added. "Many of them have volunteered to help us out, but right now we're not at the stage where we can let anyone get involved besides professionals. But we'll be at that stage in about a month."

A dive crew is currently assessing the number of vessels that have sunk and some vessels they are still trying to find.

In addition to boat damage, the marina fuel tank that had 1,900 gallons of gasoline was knocked loose and rolled down a hill, landing right-side up in the lake.

"We got a crane to lift it up and we determined there was no discharge of gasoline," said Davis. "The real concern was many of the boats that had fuel in them ... we pulled boats that were considered an environmental hazard in the first three or four days at a considerable cost to us."

Davis said officials tested the water for nine days in the area before it was determined there were no significant problems. Leslie Blair, public information officer at Lake Thunderbird State Park, said the lake is now open, as well as the surrounding campgrounds, although cleanup will continue in the park for several weeks to come.

Davis has been in business for 20 years and describes the 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,' said Davis. "We're hoping to be back by [next] April."

— Elizabeth Ellis

Soundings senior reporter Chris Landry contributed to this report. Look for more in-depth coverage of this incident in the August issue of Soundings.