OKLAHOMA CITY-Ten employees were working at Downtown Tire & Auto the morning of April 19, when the store's 41 windows and 13 overhead garage bay doors suddenly blew in. All 10 first hit the ground and then, in shock, went outdoors to see a large plume of smoke rising into the air over the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building just two blocks away.
But as debris-fallout from the explosion that destroyed the building-began raining down all around, they retreated inside, Downtown Tire's Pat Smith related the next day to TIRE BUSINESS.
Despite the damage to his dealership, Mr. Smith said he feels fortunate when he thinks of all the victims maimed and killed in the terrorist car-bomb attack on the federal office building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Power and telephone lines were disrupted in a number of areas, but Downtown Tire retained phone service for an hour-and-a-half afterwards and opened the store to a number of survivors and others who wanted to contact their families, Mr. Smith said.
The shock and heartbreak over the magnitude of the injuries, death and devastation were shared by many Oklahoma City dealers contacted by TIRE BUSINESS the next day. Some stores suffered damage or at least felt the shock wave from the estimated 5,000 pounds of explosive believed to have caused the blast. But there were no injuries at the dealerships contacted.
Nonetheless, dealers and their employees were affected emotionally-especially those who knew possible victims of the tragedy.
Vicki Graves of Okie Tire Center Inc. said she was waiting for word on her cousin's wife, a 43-year-old mother of a toddler, who worked in the federal building and was still missing a week later. At that time, with a couple hundred people still unaccounted for, Ms. Graves held out little hope for good news.
Meanwhile, the employees at Downtown Tire were troubled by the sight of an unclaimed car sitting in the shop that belonged to a customer killed in the explosion. Mr. Smith said he has since seen the obituaries for several long-time customers killed in the blast.
On the other hand, there is Ken Koeltzow, owner of Ken's Tire & Auto Service Inc., who received rare good news of a friend who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency on the seventh floor of the federal building and who was among those lucky enough to have been able to escape the ruins.
Mr. Koeltzow compared the homemade bomb-a mixture of fertilizer and fuel oil-to an atomic bomb in the way the smoke and dust mushroomed from the federal building. It created an explosive force that was felt for miles around the city.
At Joe Esco Tire Co.'s headquarters more than four miles away from the federal building, employees felt the building shake and heard what sounded like a sonic boom, according to one employee.
Dennis Little, manager of Swansons Tire Co.'s downtown store, was driving a customer to work and was one block away from the federal building when it blew up. ``(The explosive force) lifted the car up off the ground,'' he recalled. ``I saw glass flying across the street.
``I've been in a tornado before, but this was worse.''
Back at Swansons Tire, about four blocks away, the blast shattered two large picture windows, blowing glass 100 feet back into the showroom, he said. In addition, six bay doors buckled, two warehouse doors crumpled and the roof over the alignment shop was damaged.
Mr. Little said that some of his employees, after helping clean and board up the store, lent their help in the evacuation downtown. The store is just a block away from the area evacuated and cordoned off by rescue workers, making the street in front of the store ``busier than it had been in 25 years,'' Mr. Little said.
Many of the store's customers work in the federal building and the surrounding office buildings. With many damaged downtown buildings now closed for several weeks and with streets blocked off in the area, Mr. Little expected his business to slow down.
Business at Ken's Tire, like activity in the city generally, fell off on the day of the explosion and has been slow ever since.
``Business is not good today,'' Mr. Koeltzow said in an April 24 interview, five days after the explosion. ``I don't know how long it will affect us. Normally we work on 30 cars a day. We have two customers today.
``But that's to be expected,'' he added. ``I have no problem with that.''