NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Tornadoes are a part of life in Moore, Okla., something country star Toby Keith was reminded of when a deadly, devastating one leveled parts of his hometown on Monday.
"It’s happened so many times through my life, I’ve been in so many," Keith said in a phone interview today. "During my life, probably on average every four or five years, you probably have one that’s devastating. … It affects you, somebody you know, every time."
This time it affected his sister, Tonni.
Keith flew out of the Moore area at about noon, and said the gathering clouds on the western horizon gave him a bad feeling. After he arrived in his Nashville recording studio Monday afternoon, he watched the storm system on an iPad app. So when he saw the tornado rolling down Fourth Street through his old neighborhood and toward his sister’s house, he picked up the phone to warn her.
"She said, ‘We’re safe. We’re south of it, but we can see it,’" Keith recalled. "She was at my mother’s about a mile away. I said, ‘Well, good.’ Then she got to watch it go right through her neighborhood."
Keith said he had tornadoes pass a few miles to the north and south of his house on consecutive days.
Sunday’s storm damaged parts of nearby Shawnee, killing two. Monday’s storm killed at least 24 — including nine schoolchildren — in Moore, a suburb of 56,000 southwest of Oklahoma City.
Keith said he didn’t want to downplay the disaster, but that the people of the area are "resilient" and will rebound.
"It’s just devastating but there’s probably nobody better prepared for tornados than Oklahoma, especially the Moore area," Keith said. "That is known as Tornado Alley, Twister Alley. They’ll rebuild, but it was just awful those kids were in school when it happened."
During recording breaks, Keith has fielded calls about putting together a benefit for tornado victims and said he’s been in contact with the University of Oklahoma about possibly using the football stadium.
"I know as soon as I start sending out some feelers that I’ll get a lot of people in there," Keith said. "Hopefully, we can use music to heal some of the money problems right away."