Extreme Weather

How a Thai Refugee, 22, Saved His Elderly Neighbor's Life After the Kentucky Tornado

Their neighborhood in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was hit during the devastating tornado outbreak in the mid-Mississippi Valley on Dec. 10.

When Maung Oo heard the screams on Friday night, he knew he had to act.

Just a few hours before, while at work, he saw the news about an impending tornado and thought about the many warnings that had come before but never amounted to anything. So he went home to his neighborhood in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and went to sleep in the house he shares with five other family members, all refugees from Thailand.

Later, Oo, 22, woke up in the middle of the night to the tornado alarms ringing, but still he didn't worry and lay back down. Before he could fall asleep again, though, he heard "a train sound, but I didn't hear any train horn. So I'm like, 'That's a dang tornado,'" he recalled to NBCLX.

He immediately ran to the living room of his house and helped his family huddle up in a room without any windows. He estimated it took about five seconds for the twister to pass.

Allison Rogers has seen tornado damage before in her career, but the damage in Mayfield, Kentucky brings back memories of one of the worst storms the U.S. has seen - Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed her Mississippi hometown in 2005. Rogers, a meteorologist at WLWT in Cincinnati, Ohio, shows us the scene in Kentucky and explains how the National Weather Service will review the damage to determine just how strong those destructive tornadoes were on the EF scale.

"I wasn't scared. It was more, 'Is my family going to be OK?' Just looking over them, making sure nothing's going to fall," he said. "It snapped everything, broke everything."

After checking that his family was uninjured and the debris in the house couldn't cause further trauma, he heard a sound from outside — a female neighbor crying out, "Bob," the name of another neighbor.

"I put on my boots, throw my hoodie on, run outside, see what's going on. I see that house just torn apart," Oo recalled. "The first thing I did, I ran over there. One of my other neighbors was already over there with a flashlight. He's trying to get in, but he couldn't get in, so we moved this big piece out the way, and then soon as I got in, my neighbor left, so I was the only one there."

"There wasn't no adrenaline rush, nothing like that. I heard screaming and [I didn't] see him in there. So I'm like, I'm going get him out. I'm not going to leave him in there. ... I just hopped in and got on with it."

The house, home an 80-year-old man who'd lived in the neighborhood for years, had lost its roof and a chunk of exterior walls. As Oo described it, "Everything was just crumbled up. I climbed over, I don't know, walls, doors."

Bob's home from the outside. Courtesy Maung Oo.

Then he found Bob in the hallway with blood on his face, hands and feet. Bob didn't know where his shoes were, so after Oo tried unsuccessfully to give his neighbor his own, he ran back home to grab another pair. As he was putting them on Bob's feet, he started to smell gas in the home.

"I was not thinking, I just reacted," he said. "I only realized what I was doing when I was in that house with him. And when I smelled that gas, I said, 'We need to go.'"

Together they fought the wind and rain, still tempestuous even after the tornado had passed, and got Bob inside the Oo home. Next, Oo tried to chase down an ambulance to get Bob to a hospital, but they were moving too fast. Oo was able to grab someone from the fire department to check Bob out, but Bob didn't want to go to the hospital so he stayed overnight with the Oos.

Drone video shows the devastation the morning after deadly tornadoes tore through Western Kentucky.

"When I first got to him at his house, he was just stunned ... [didn't] know what's going on. Then at our place he kept saying he's OK and all," Oo said. "We kept checking up on him. He looked pretty lost, confused, worn out."

The next morning, Oo and his sister when back to Bob's house and fished out his medications and his phone so he could call his family, who came and picked him up. "He's doing pretty good," Oo said. "I've seen him a couple times and talked to him."

Oo suspects that Bob's house, more than 60 years old, will have to be demolished. His home fared slightly better: four or five holes in the roof, a bunch of downed trees, broken windows and a branch through one end of the structure.

Even though he didn't think about his actions much that Friday night, Oo's happy with their outcome, he said. "I'm just glad we all made out, honestly. We got hit, but it's worse out there."