Hospital Workers Share Harrowing Accounts Of Joplin Tornado

Sunday, May 20th 2012, 8:59 pm
By: News 9

It has been nearly a year since the Joplin tornado, an EF-5 storm that killed 161 people and forever changed the entire community.

That tornado touched down on May 22, just after 5:30 p.m. And one year later, the rebuilding continues.

The devastation from the tornado was made much, much worse because of the situation at St. John's Hospital. It was knocked out by the tornado. Six people inside the hospital died. All of the patients had to be evacuated.

Video just released from outside the ER shows just how quickly the tornado tore through the hospital. Hospital workers had to move fast that night. These are unsung heroes who stepped up in the face of disaster and prevented an already horrible tragedy from getting even worse.

St. John's Hospital still stands as the tallest reminder of tornado's sheer power. Its weather torn walls cover the dirty, trashed out hallways which used to serve so many in and around Joplin.

"I've seen the building at right there. I know I didn't have a job," said plumber, Phillip Wilkinson.

See the timeline of the devastating Joplin tornado.

But Wilkinson still had work to do. He was deep in the bowels of a hospital, which had been decimated in a matter of minutes.

"I could hear something," said Wilkinson.

That something turned out to be a major gas leak.

I'm sure it would have been a pretty big light show if it went off," said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson had no time to wait for the gas company. Just getting there took hours because of so much debris in the roads. So the 30-year hospital veteran, like some many workers that night, stepped up to solve the problem himself.

"Gas rich environment, so you for a minute or so you'd have to hold your breath a little bit and go back."

"The norm," as Wilkinson calls it, was gone throughout St. Johns hospital.

"All the disaster training in the world doesn't train you from your whole building going down."

Shelly Hunter is a CFO. It's typically a desk job, but not on May 22, where she worked in the hall feverishly trying to get people safely out of the hospital.

"I think it was shaky. Everyone was in shock, but we got all our patients evacuated in 90 minutes," said Hunter.

The tornado killed five patients and one visitor, but 183 were safely placed in other medical facilities.

"No one person made all that much of a difference. I believe it was all of us on site," said Hunter.

Since the tornado, employees may have been asked to perform other duties, but no one has lost their job because of the tornado and its destruction.

Now the hospital is rebuilding. It started with temporary facilities, and just last month a permanent hospital was opened. In 2015 a much larger, state-of-the-art $450 million hospital will be completed.