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Tornado victim separated from spouse: 'The house totally disappeared'

May 22, 2013 at 8:07 AM ET

Jerrie Bhonde remembers heading to the bathroom to ride out the tornado with her husband, Hemant. The couple clung to each other inside the shower and waited.

Suddenly, the bathroom, and the rest of their house, vanished.

“The house totally disappeared,” Jerrie Bhonde recalled a day later for TODAY’s Matt Lauer from her hospital bed.

Just moments earlier, the storm’s fierce winds and debris left her battered.

Hemant Bhonde, one of the confirmed victims of the Moore, Okla. tornado.
Courtesy Bhonde family
Hemant Bhonde, one of the confirmed victims of the Moore, Okla. tornado.

“Walls were hitting me. I was knocked on the floor,” she said in a segment that aired Wednesday. “I looked around for my husband. I couldn't find him.”

Separated from his wife, Hemant Bhonde, 65, was later discovered and identified as one of the 24 confirmed victims killed by the tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla.

At the time Bhonde and her family spoke to Lauer, they held on to hope he would still be found.

“They’re finding people every hour, almost,” she said.

The couple’s daughter, Geeta, described her father as a generous, caring man.

“Funny, silly, I mean, give you the shirt off his back, literally. The best guy you'll ever meet,” she said. “And it's really hard to think that we don't know where he is and he might be alone and doesn't know how to get a hold of us.”

The family received the devastating news just hours later. The other victims included 9-year-old Ja’Nae Hornsby, who died after the twister demolished Plaza Towers Elementary School. She was among 10 children killed. The youngest victims were 4-month-old Case Futrell and7-month-old Sydnee Vargys.Case's mother,Megan Futrell, 29, and Sydnee's 4-year-old sisterwere alsokilled.

The other children who died in the storm were Kyle Davis, 8; Sydney Angle, 9; Antonia Canderaria, 9; Emily Conatzer, 9; Nicolas McCabe, 9; andChristopher Legg, 9. The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released theirnames along with a partial list of other victims, whose families have yet to be notified. Overall, 24 people died in the storm.

Fred Galarza survived with only broken bones and fractured ribs after being rescued from the rubble of his liquor store.
TODAY
Fred Galarza survived with only broken bones and fractured ribs after being rescued from the rubble of his liquor store.

The stories of unbearable loss are not wasted on Fred Galarza, who feels lucky to have survived the storm with some broken bones and fractured ribs. Galarza was inside his liquor store when the tornado barreled down.

"I kind of look up from the floor and I saw the roof being pulled away,” he said. For a split second, he considered running to the 7-11 next door but stayed put, a decision that probably saved his life: The storm killed several people inside the convenience store.

Instead, Galarza ran into his store’s bathroom and dove beneath the sink. He soon started feeling debris fall around him, ultimately pinning down his legs.

“And then I felt the sink finally fall and it hit my head, it hit my shoulder,” he said from his hospital bed. “Thought that might be it. That's where they're gonna find me, like that."

Once the storm passed, he heard people calling for survivors.

“I screamed, yelled, and then I started whistling. I whistled as loud as I could. And they're like, ‘We hear you. Where are you?’” he said. “I stuck my hand through the little hole I made and I kind of waved my fingers, ‘I'm over here.’ And they came up and he was like, ‘Where you at, buddy?’ I went, ‘You're right on top of me.’”

Galarza’s wife, Julie, was safe inside the couple’s home, located outside the tornado’s path. She reached her husband via text message. Galarza told her he was fine, and at the store.

“Then I got the next text that said, ‘Well, it was there. It’s gone now,’” she said.

Galarza was hospitalized for rib fractures and broken bones in his back.

Yeah, I consider myself pretty lucky. That's it,” he said.

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