For 18 years, Diane Lankford has been a nurse, and all those years have prepared her for almost anything.
On the evening of May 22, she was working on the eighth floor of St. John's in labor and delivery where, just hours before, her patient had delivered a baby boy by cesarean section.
"They had announced a 'condition gray', which is to get ready for a storm, but of course we had no idea how bad a storm," Diane Lankford said. "It got very dark all of a sudden. The wind and the rain was upon us."
No sooner did Lankford realize what was happening outside was much more than a simple storm, a voice on the intercom warned hospital staff to execute condition gray. This was no longer a possibility, danger was close.
"At that time, we ran down the hall to our patients. The wind was blowing, you could hear glass shattering and the electricity was blinking on and off," Lankford said.
The patients already had been moved to the hall and the doors to the rooms were closed just in case windows were shattered. But the suction of the storm overhead, which is now known as a powerful EF5 tornado, had ripped open the door to Lankford's patient's room.
"I reached to grab the door and the wind was so powerful and the velocity of the wind just pulled me into the room," Lankford said.
Another nurse reached out to Lankford and managed to get a hold of her. With all her strength she pulled Lankford back and both women fell to the floor. At this point Lankford says there was debris filling the hallway. The floors above were collapsing.
"It was wet and electric lines were sparking, and we were just holding on and Carrie was praying just let the angels surround us, and they did," Lankford said.
When the storm passed, debris was everywhere. To the staff and patients on the eighth floor, they weren't sure if anyone else in the hospital had survived.
It was an eerie quiet, and in their minds - although no one said it out loud - they knew there was no way the tornado didn't claim any lives.
Lankford and her colleagues knew they needed to get off the eighth floor and down to safety. Were there more tornados coming, and could the hospital withstand the direct hit it had just taken? Lankford gave her shoes to the new mother, who would have to walk down eight flights of stairs to safety.
"I didn't want her to get cut with glass or debris. It was almost knee high, the debris," Lankford said.
Lankford and the rest of the staff and patients made it to the parking lot. Surveying the damage from ground zero, she knew the town she had lived in her entire life would be forever changed.
She didn't know if her family had survived. The patients were all transported to Freeman Hospital, and Lankford's boss ordered everyone else to go home and check on their families. But Lankford wasn't going anywhere.
"I'm going to stay here because my husband will be here to get me. She said, 'You don't know that,' and I said, 'Yes, I do.' And as we were pulling out, he pulled up," she said.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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