Joplin, Missouri Survivor: Tornado 'Just One Big Wall'

Man rides out deadly twister clutching bathroom sink's pipes.

ByABC News
May 24, 2011, 7:04 AM

May 24, 2011 — -- Rance Junge had the surprise of his life when he opened the back door of his Pronto pharmacy in Joplin, Mo., Sunday evening, exposing a scene from another world.

"It was just one big wall," he said of the nearly mile-wide tornado. "You couldn't see a funnel. It was just so massive."

His story of survival is just one of many beginning to emerge after the twister cut a six-mile-wide path through Joplin on Sunday, causing widespread destruction and killing 117 people -- the most from one storm in 60 years.

"It wasn't even that bad out here," he said of the sky before the twister showed up at his door. "It wasn't that dark or anything. ... It didn't really seem that threatening or anything."

Although sirens had been sounding, Junge said he didn't check outside again until the store's computers started flickering on and off.

As one woman in the pharmacy hunkered down by a toilet in the bathroom, he slid under the sink and held onto the pipes. He said he was hit by a 2-by-4 because he wouldn't let go of the pipes to protect his head.

"I was just hoping the bathroom walls would hold and they didn't," Junge said. "The first wall of the tornado took out most of the building. But we made it. The toilet held."

Mother: Bicycle Helmet Saved Her Son's Life

As the tornado neared her home in Joplin, Natalie Gonzalez ran to the bathroom and huddled in the tub with her 9-year-old son Augie, her puppy and boyfriend.

"We saw the tornado warning," she told ABC News today. "We heard the sirens. I looked outside and saw the dark cloud. We made the split-second decision to take a blanket, take a pillow. ... I threw these things over my son. "

Gonzalez said that at the last minute, she got her son to put on his bicycle helmet because she'd heard it would protect a child during a hurricane.

"At one point, the toilet flew up out of the ground and hit my son in the head and me in the back and the bicycle helmet saved his life," she said. When it appeared that they were in the eye of the storm, Gonzalez said, the three ran from the bathtub and jumped into a ditch.

She said today that she was a little sore but OK. Her boyfriend was undergoing surgery for injuries he'd suffered.