Anna Richardson had just gotten up from an afternoon nap on May 10, 2008 - a date that will forever be embedded in her mind as deeply as the scars she bears.
“I made a pot of coffee and was going to spend the evening watching movies,” said Richardson.
Richardson’s husband, James - a childhood sweetheart - was on duty as a 911 dispatcher in Miami that evening.
“I was watching a vortex image on the 911 center radar screen that indicated a tornado was approaching Picher,” said James Richardson. “Then I got a call from an officer north of Commerce who was watching the tornado on the ground.”
Richardson said he called his wife to tell her to take cover.
Following the family's emergency plan, Anna Richardson covered herself with a mattress under an archway in the center of the house.
“The wind was so strong there are no words to describe it,” said Richardson. “It was coming through the vents, the windows, the doors - everywhere. There was a loud roar - so loud it hurt.”
The 47-year-old wife, mother and grandmother said she watched in amazement as the ceiling and walls separated and then closed together again.
“I remember staring up at the ceiling fan from under the mattress I was using to protect myself,” said Richardson. “When all of a sudden my body was lifted into the light. I flew out of where the ceiling used to be.”
Richardson was thrown into a tree about a block away from her house.
“I remember waking up next to the tree thinking I was going to die,” said Richardson. “I saw my little dog, then the hail started coming down so hard. I tried to cover my head and face but my arms were both broken. The hail was beating down on me and it hurt so bad.”
Then it was calm.
“When the storm was over, I was lying there trying to get up but I couldn’t,” said Richardson. “I saw a man walk past me. I remember thinking he was so clean. He had on a flannel shirt and jeans and dingo boots. I don’t know who he was, but he made me feel like everything was going to be okay.”
Richardson said she was doing everything she could to stay awake. Minutes later, she saw her son, Aaron.
Aaron Richardson, one of the Richardson’s three sons, was in Commerce when the storm hit.
“When I heard it was moving toward Picher I jumped in my car and headed that way to make sure my mom was alright,” said Aaron Richardson.
Aaron Richardson said he had to park on the chat piles because he couldn’t get into the town.
He started where his childhood home should have been and walked in the direction of the debris.
“It was hard to figure out where things were suppose to be - nothing looked the same,” said Aaron Richardson. “I knew what way the tornado was going and I could follow debris that I recognized from our house and neighbor’s - then I found her.”
James Richardson had left the busy 911 center in the hands of co-workers to rush to his wife’s side.
“Aaron called and said ‘mom’s hurt bad, real bad’,” said James Richardson. “It was strange because when I walked out to get in my truck the sun was shining - it was pretty out. As I drove toward Picher, I started noticing the devastation.”
James Richardson said he had to park four blocks away from the house.
“There were emergency vehicles everywhere already,” said James Richardson. “There were six helicopters already in Picher - three in the air.”
When Richardson caught up with his wife, she was already strapped to a gurney in preparation for transport to the hospital.
“I ask them to stop for a minute, I wanted to see her,” said James Richardson. “As soon as I looked at her I knew it was bad. I told them to get her to the hospital.”
As he made his way back to his vehicle, James was learning more devastating news.
His wife’s sister, Linda Mathis, rushed to her mother’s home when she heard the sirens sound.
When the storm ceased Anna Richardson’s mother, Marjorie Reeves, was found wrapped nine times in the living room carpet. She suffered multiple injuries.
Richardson’s sister, Linda, was one of six casualties in Picher.
“I knew right away I lost my sister,” said Anna Richardson. “They were just a couple houses away from me.”
The storms that stretched across Missouri were keeping medical helicopters on the ground, so Richardson was transported to Columbia, Mo., by jet.
“She was in surgery nine hours just cleaning up the injuries and repairing the lacerations,” said James Richardson - who later relayed most of his wife’s hospital stay to her. “She had 11 surgeries in 12 days. She was broken up everywhere.”
All of Anna Richardson’s limbs were broken, her back was broken in three places, she had a small laceration to her spleen, large lacerations throughout her body.
Ultimately, half of her left foot was amputated.
“I’m doing better,” said Anna Richardson. “It’s not been easy. I wanted to give up many times but my son’s voice telling me I could do it kept ringing in my ears.”
The Richardson’s had lived on River Street in Picher most of their lives.
“Our birth certificates are almost identical,” said Anna Richardson.
Anna and James were both born in Kansas City, Mo., in the same hospital and by the same doctor.
However, their families did not know each other.
When, then Anna Reeves, was five years old her family moved to Picher - to River Street.
James Richardson’s family moved to Miami when he was a child, then eventually moved to Picher - to River Street.
“The first time I met James he was killing a frog with a stick I told him that was cruel and he pulled my hair - I was 12,” said Anna Richardson. “Now he just makes me pull my own hair.”
Since that time, Anna and James have spent little time apart. They “went together” in junior high, dated in high school, got married shortly afterwards, had three sons and lived in the same house on River Street for over 20 years.
Now they make their home in Miami - in a house James found while Anna was still in the hospital.
“I took pictures of everything inside the house to the hospital and showed her to get her approval,” said James Richardson.
“It was strange coming home,” said Anna Richardson. “It wasn’t my home, it wasn’t my furniture, I didn’t know where anything was.”
Anna Richardson says she doesn’t remember much from her stay in Columbia, but she remembers her ride home.
“It was my birthday,” said Richardson.
After several months in hospitals and six months of therapy after she got home, Anna Richardson is making progress that never ceases to amaze her physicians.
“It was questionable whether she would make it or not,” said James Richardson. “Her doctor’s certainly didn’t think she would ever walk again.”
Perhaps the most amazing to the Richardson’s is the generosity of everyone who made their recovery less stressful.
“There is no way we could possibly thank everyone who helped us,” said Anna Richardson. “We tried to send thank you notes, but we didn’t even have addresses for some of the people.”
Prior to May 10, 2008, Anna Richardson worked for Picher Schools in the cafeteria for over 18 years.
“My co-workers came in and furnished my kitchen with all new appliances,” said Richardson. “They were great. The Miami Police Department helped in so many ways. It would have been impossible to get through all of this without everyone who helped us - our friends, our family, churches, the community, even complete strangers.”
“We got so many cards and people we didn’t even know would send money to help,” said James Richardson. “I wouldn’t have been able to stay at the hospital with Anna all that time if not for everyone’s help. My co-workers donated time so I could take off.”
James Richardson said Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) was very helpful.
“Red Cross helped a lot,” said James Richardson.
“A church from Bartlesville backed vehicles up to the door and provided us with everything you could imagine for our house,” said Anna Richardson. “We really can’t express how much everyone’s help meant to us. There are no words to say how much we appreciate it.”
Like most mother’s and grandmother’s, Anna Richardson has a large display of photographs of her “pride’s and joy’s,” but all of the photographs are recent.
One lonely photograph of the Richardson boys remains from yesteryear gracing the walls of Anna and James’ new home - A copy they obtained from family.
“All of our family lived right there within a few houses of one another,” said Anna Richardson. “We lost everything - everything. Pictures the average person would be able to get from their parents or siblings after a disaster are gone because our family’s homes were destroyed too.”
The only thing they have is their marriage license.
“A woman in Missouri found it in her yard and mailed it back to us,” said Anna Richardson. “I don’t even know how she found us.”
While the physical wounds have healed - absent the possibility of a couple more surgeries - the emotional wounds remain.
“She gets pretty upset when the weather starts looking bad,” said James Richardson. “These recent storms we’ve had have really took a toll on her.”
“I told James he has to get me a cellar,” said Anna Richardson.
James Richardson said his wife relives the horror every time it storms. “She almost has a panic attack.”
To say that May 10, 2008, is a day the people of Picher will never forget is an understatement.
In a few short years, the former vibrant mining community has dwindled to a near ghost town - devastated by lead pollution, the threat of subsidence and a killer tornado. But, no matter where its residence relocate, Picher will always be home to those who loved the town that Jack built.