After 59 days of rolling his wheelchair across the country, West Hempstead native Suheil Aghabi had left about 1,900 miles in the dust as he trailed into Rolla, Mo., near the end of May. While the weather proved turbulent in those last few days, Aghabi and his crew braved a rough trek, emerging from Tornado Alley.
Aghabi, 42, planned to wheel his chair from California to his hometown in about 70 days so that he could revisit his alma mater, West Hempstead High School. Now a resident of Santa Monica, Calif., Aghabi — who is often seen in movies and television shows and uses the stage name Gabriel Cordell — is traveling with a film crew that is documenting his long and arduous trip.
Before they reached the halfway mark of their 3,300-mile journey in Tulsa, Okla., on May 20, Aghabi and his crew rolled into the town of Chandler — 50 miles east of the monster storm brewing in Moore — where there was rain and high winds.
In an account of the grave scene on Aghabi’s website, crew member and blogger Derek Gibbs recalled how skies darkened over the team as storm clouds gathered, while locals sought refuge in nearby shelters.
“We were rolling on a narrow 2-lane road and motorists were anxious to get wherever they were going and we were in their way traveling 3-5 mph,” Gibbs wrote. “Tornado sirens wailing, rain falling and winds gusting, Gabriel stripped off his rain soaked T-shirt and pushed his way into town where we saw several cars pulled over and waiting for conditions to clear before returning to the interstate. There was an excitement in the air as the next series of tornado sirens screamed their warnings and set our ears ringing.”
Aghabi and his crew holed up in Chandler until the storms passed, but were devastated to learn about the deaths and damage they left in their wake. They visited the ravaged countryside in Carney — which had been hit by twisters as well — to help local victims clean up before they continued moving eastward. Aghabi described how moved he was by a family whose 5,500-square-foot home was swept away, with only a single wall left standing.