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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Winds exceeding 200 mph ripped the plant's west wall and roof clean off, like a can opener peeling the lid from a giant tin of corn. Steel girders were left standing naked against the navy sky.

General Motors Corp.'s paint and body shops and powerhouse were pulverized, and debris dented about 600 newly assembled SUVs in surrounding parking lots, shattering their windows.

Yet none of the 1,000 employees on duty when the F4 tornado ripped through the southern Oklahoma City plant a year ago this past Saturday were injured, and GM had full production restored in 53 days, with little impact on earnings and just a small delay to the launch of its GMC Envoy XUV.

"If you had a chance to look at the plant to see the devastation, that was really remarkable," GM spokesman Dan Flores said.

Now, silver, gold and maroon Envoys and Pontiac Trailblazers glide through the plant's pristine paint shop and spark-filled body shop at a pace of 3,000 a week, filling about 3 percent of GM's production.

Workers in blue coveralls, hair nets and safety goggles -- many of whom were present when the twister hit -- guide the vehicles along their robotic paths. All is back to normal, like it was before 5:18 p.m. May 8, 2003.

The plant's second shift had about 15 minutes warning. As the sirens wailed, roughly 100 paint shop employees sought shelter in the 500-square-foot, cinder block canteen.

"We knew the instant it hit the building," said painter Cherrie Dunbar, who recalls huddling beneath a table, praying. "You could feel the vibration."

The power failed, but the generators turned emergency lights on. The room filled with dust, and palpable electricity in the air stood the hairs on the workers' arms.

After the tornado passed, workers emerged to find their twisted cars piled on the parking lot, tossed into the plant or submerged in a pond. One car has never been found.

"It absolutely took my breath away," said paint shop area manager Tom Blad, who left work just before the storm hit and immediately returned to survey damage. "You were here 30 minutes before, and everything was fine."

The tornado packing winds between 207 mph and 260 mph injured 134 people and destroyed hundreds of homes and business across the Oklahoma City area. At the plant, just two truck drivers for GM suppliers had minor injuries.

The United Auto Workers Local 1999 hall across Air Depot Blvd. from the plant was leveled, too. About 36 members and their spouses were inside for a class about retirement benefits when the sirens sung.

They huddled together in an interior hallway of the steel-sided building, and the twister crushed the meeting hall and the north end of the hallway like a cola can underfoot.

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