Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby (right) inspects tornado damage at Riverwind Casino and Hotel Oct. 23. Pictured with Gov. Anoatubby are Riverwind Manager Jack Parkinson, Secretary of Commerce Bill Lance and Executive Officer of Construction Services Ken Smith.
Published October 29, 2017
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby toured the Riverwind Casino and Hotel Monday, October 23 to inspect the damage caused by a tornado that struck the facility Saturday night.
“We are very pleased that there were no injuries as a result of the tornado,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “We take great pride in all the members of our security team and casino staff who worked through a very difficult situation to ensure the safety of our guests.”
Bill Lance, Secretary of Commerce for the Chickasaw Nation, said the gaming floor is fully operational.
On the roof of the theater, Riverwind Manager Jack Parkinson recounted Saturday night’s events amid dozens of small, red spray-painted circles marking damage caused by storm debris.
Parkinson said security staff were monitoring the facility’s own radar system as well as the National Weather Service and local news media, as part of protocols in place to protect patrons and staff at the facility.
He said that electric generators had already been activated proactively as a result of thunderstorms in the area.
“As part of our protocols, we turn on the generators any time there is lightning within ten miles of the casino,” he said. “That ensures there is no disruption in electrical service in the casino if the power goes out.”
Those protocols also include alerting patrons to shelter in safe areas of the facility in the event of a tornado warning. However, the tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service at 8:37 p.m., which is the same time the tornado struck the building.
“It seems the tornado just dropped out of the clouds right on top of the building,” said Parkinson. “We had virtually no warning before it hit.”
Despite the lack of prior warning, no injuries to patrons or employees were reported.
Once the storm hit, casino staff leaped into action, escorting fans who had been enjoying the sold-out Beach Boys concert out of the theater into a secure area of the facility.
Parkinson noted that audience members remained calm and the Beach Boys continued to sign memorabilia for some fans as others were ushered into another part of the building.
Patrons and staff reported feeling the theater shake “like an earthquake” when the tornado hit. That was likely caused when a 20,000 pound heating and air conditioning unit was toppled off its base, crushing a much smaller unit nearby.
Another large unit had been pushed partially off its base, resulting in breaks in some of the natural gas lines powering the heaters. Maintenance crews and Chickasaw Tribal Utility Authority personnel were on sight beginning the repair process.
A black plastic tarp covered the opening where the unit had been perched on its base, which rises about 18 inches above the roof.
In the theater below, fans and other equipment were placed strategically around the theater to remove the last traces of water that poured in during the storm.
While staff and patrons first thought the water was coming in due to roof damage, it was learned that a majority of the water was coming from the fire suppression system, which was triggered when the tornado struck the building. Water to that system was then shut off, preventing any further damage.
Flooding of some areas of the gaming floor rendered approximately 800 electronic games temporarily inoperable. More than 90 percent of those games are back in operation.
The tornado also caused damage to the southeast corner of the hotel roof. That area has been covered while repairs are underway. Hotel management worked to contact patrons with hotel reservations, to assist them with finding alternate accommodations.
Several restaurants remain closed at this time. Officials have secured a number of local food trucks to provide dining options for patrons. Crews continue to assess the damage to the hotel and Showplace Theater.
Officials expect to have a timeline for all repairs and restoration in a matter of days