Looking back, David Snuffer sees his days spent in the Moore tornado recovery are best described as surreal.
Snuffer had finished substitute teaching a second-grade class at Union elementary the afternoon of the storm.
The 2011 alumnus is a 1st Lt. in the Oklahoma National Guard and was living in Tulsa at the time.
Hours after dismissing his own class, Snuffer found himself picking through debris in the wasteland of Plaza Tower Elementary in Moore, Okla.
The storm took 24 lives, seven of them being children at the school where Snuffer helped with cleanup and recovery after the EF5 monster hit May 20.
“It was the most devastating scene I had seen,” Snuffer said.
The tornado struck the school at 3:19 p.m. After learning of the storm’s fury, Snuffer slipped on his National Guard uniform, grabbed his rescue bag and drove west toward the destruction.
Once at the epicenter of the destruction, the West Virginia native began setting up lights for search-and-rescue efforts.
Survivors and first responders worked in the rubble, listening for voices buried in debris.
The stench of gas leaks explained the flames dotting the now-unrecognizable landscape. Snuffer remembers the musty smells of wet, crushed concrete and insulation—like inhaling the heavy air of a basement.
The buzz of generators and screams of sirens punctuated the night.
“You could hear helicopters circling overhead,” Snuffer said. “There was still rain falling, and all of us kept looking up at the sky, checking for more storms.”
Snuffer only returned to Tulsa for a few hours sleep before he headed back to Moore or another day of recovery.
By the third day, Snuffer was joined by a group of 20 ORU volunteers wanting to help with the cleanup.
Bobby Parks, director of the missions and outreach department, helped mobilize the group from Tulsa.
“We wanted to be strategic,” Parks said. “We didn’t want to get in the way [by] trying to be heroes.”
Instead, Parks and his team met Snuffer at a church on the outskirts of Moore, bringing with them water, food and hygiene products for residents and volunteers.
Partnered with the disaster relief organization, Convoy of Hope, ORU’s two dozen volunteers drove through neighborhoods offering supplies.
The team spoke with survivors and helped them find clothes, valuables and medication lost in the storm.
Plans for a follow-up outreach effort from ORU are in the works, Parks said. The university’s baseball team plans to help with cleanup in Moore Sept. 7.
As Snuffer watched students and staff respond to the disaster, he said seeing his alma mater in action was a welcome relief to the devastation.
“When I saw them in their bright yellow ORU shirts, I was definitely proud to be a Golden Eagle right then,” Snuffer said. “It was awesome to see students living out the motto of going into every man’s world.”