Over 100 feared horses dead in OK

More than 100 horses are thought to have perished in the massive tornado that hit the Moore, Okla. area May 20 in addition to the human lives that were lost.

Dr. Glenn Orr and Tom Orr's Orr Family Farm near Moore, Okla., which sits on the 106-acre Celestial Acres Thoroughbred training center, sustained significant damage from the hit.

It's like a war zone here -- [the horses] are just gone. "It's just scorched earth -- like a bomb went off.

-- Tony Vann, PR for Celestial Acres

"Right now we still don't have any specific numbers [on how many horses have died]," said Tony Vann, president of Vann & Associates, the public relations firm that represents the Oklahoma City area farm.

Vann said it was difficult to determine the number of animals lost since Orr rents stalls out to multiple trainers and it was unclear exactly how many were stabled at the farm at the time of the tornado.

"It's like a war zone here -- [the horses] are just gone," said Vann. "It's just scorched earth -- like a bomb went off."

The farm's stalls and barns took a direct hit from the tornado, which was estimated to be on the ground for 40 minutes as it demolished everything in its path. It was estimated to be 3.2 kilometres wide. Three and a half of the facility's five barns were reported to be swept away.

Vann said debris had been found on the Orr property from the city of Moore all the way to Tulsa, Okla., which is approximately 90 miles from the farm. "Right now they are going through and looking at just what they lost," he said.

On its Facebook page, the farm noted that while it sustained an "extreme amount" of damage to its property and adjoining facility, its staff is unharmed from the tornado.

Vann said there were five staff in the farm's administration office, plus several seasonal workers on site when the tornado approached. All were able to reach safety before it struck.

An exercise rider named Lando Hite who survived the tornado by huddling in a Celestial Acres horse stall was interviewed on CNN May 20. He predicted only one horse out of 80 that resided on the property had survived the disaster.

"I tried to let some of the horses get loose and free out of their stalls so they'd have a chance," said Hite, who suspected the tornado was on its way moments just before it touched down.

I tried to let some of the horses get loose and free out of their stalls so they'd have a chance.

-- Lando Hite, exercise rider

Hite said he works for trainer Mark Lee, who had several horses stabled at Celestial Acres. Lee trains horses that have won stakes at Remington Park, Sam Houston Race Park, Fonner Park, Horsemen's Park, and Delta Downs.

Celestial Acres frequently consigns yearlings at the Oklahoma Thoroughbred sales. Over the years, the operation has been represented as breeder of several winners at Remington and Lone Star Parks, including 2005 stakes victor High Pioneer.

In the 1990s, stallions At the Threshold and Proper Reality stood at Celestial Acres.

"We encourage individuals to donate resources to reputable organization such as the Red Cross," Orr Family Farm stated on its Facebook page. "Do not try to enter the area as the authorities have most of the city blocked and it is still hazardous for travel.

"We very much appreciate and feel very blessed with the outpouring of support from all of you. Please continue to watch our page as we try to assess damage and offer more information to you when we can. We appreciate your offers of assistance, animal care and items, and we will let you know when we can receive these generous offers."

Equine equipment and feed-related donations in the Oklahoma area can be arranged by calling Red Earth Feed & Tack 405-478-3424. Orr has also set up a Paypal account for those wishing to donate to the farm.

Celestial Acres is located 20-25 miles from Remington Park, which was not believed to have sustained significant damage from the tornado. A representative from the track, which is dark May 21, could not be reached.