Tornado Struck Hospital but Patients, Staff Unharmed

Directly in the tornado's path, Moore Medical Center patients, staff unharmed.

ByABC News
May 21, 2013, 1:07 PM

May 21, 2013 — -- Hospital emergency department manager Nick Stremble didn't need the television to tell him the tornado would hit Moore Medical Center.

All he had to do was look outside the window.

"There's a big window area that faces southwest," Stremble said, recalling his final check before heading to the safe area on the first floor of the hospital in Moore, Okla., about 10 miles from Oklahoma City. "I could see the tornado in the neighborhood across the street from us. I could see the debris. It was more than obvious it was going to be there in under a minute."

For full Oklahoma tornado coverage, click here.

The day started off with a lighter-than-usual patient load, Stremble said. Only four patients were in the emergency room. The 45-bed hospital had just 30 patients in all.

"We were actually pretty lucky," he said. "On a typical Monday, we would have had a lot more than that."

Shannon Largent, a nurse manager on the second floor of Moore Medical Center, said she'd practiced moving patients to the hallway to get away from windows, but decided to move everyone to the first floor at the last minute. Although Largent said she heard they would have survived if they stayed on the second floor, she said there would have been some injuries and it would have been harder to get people out once the tornado passed.

In the windowless safe space on the first floor, Largent said, she didn't hear the roaring of the tornado as she covered her head and waited. But she heard things hitting the roof and felt her ears pop with the sudden change in pressure. A few ceiling tiles fell, but no debris flew around the room. No one was hurt.

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When Largent emerged, she saw the destruction.

"There were wires hanging down from the ceiling, debris. Everything was really dusty afterwards," she said. "We were in a really safe place."

Stremble managed to climb out the destroyed front entrance to the hospital, which was where first responders pulled up three minutes after the tornado hit. He told them the front entrance was barely passable, and patients would be exiting out the back.

No patients or staff members were injured during the storm, and "at least" nine patients were transported to other hospitals in the Norman Regional Health System, according to a hospital news release. The rest left to be with their families.

Another 250 to 300 people from the surrounding neighborhood sought shelter at Moore Medical Center, hoping that the hospital would be able to withstand the storm better than their homes would. Although some of them were injured because they were not in the windowless safe space, Stremble said he saw mostly bumps and bruises. One girl may have suffered a broken leg.

"As far as the people inside the building, there was surprisingly little injury," Stremble said.

Once everyone moved to a nearby parking lot, hospital staff and emergency responders were able to move patients nearby hospitals. They also tended to "folks walking up with various injuries," Stremble said, but he couldn't remember how many people there were.

Largent said she was impressed by the hospital staff's great work and ability to stay calm in a frightening situation. Neither Largent nor Stremble had ever experienced a tornado before.

"I haven't had a lot of time to process things, so I think that it's probably going to hit me today," Largent said, adding that her husband is a firefighter and she was lucky that her family was safe.

"In the next couple of days," she said, "I'll go through the grieving process. It was a really scary situation."