Tinker reservist survives monster tornado
By Senior Airman Mark Hybers, 507th Air Refueling Wing public affairs
/ Published May 24, 2013
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- What started out as a sunny, routine day for one member of the 507th Force Support Squadron and the estimated 250 staff and patients at the Moore Medical Center took a sudden turn for the worse on Monday, May 20, as a mammoth 1.3 mile wide tornado bore down on them.
Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Nikki Johnson, a 19-year reservist and a nurse at the Moore Medical Center for just over three years had just left her office in the north tower and headed to the family clinic to help train a new nurse.
Johnson, who has recently moved to the education side assisting with the Center's transition to the electronic medical records system quickly, reverted back to nurse and wingman.
"I had only arrived at the clinic about 10 or 15 minutes prior to the tornado sirens sounding," said Johnson. "Once the sirens go off, the hospital calls a code black and that's when we all jump to action and start our disaster preparation."
Johnson spent the next several minutes helping other staff members escort patients downstairs. In the cafeteria, she noticed that her coworker was nowhere to be found. Once she was certain all patients in the area were secure, she made out for the north tower to find her coworker.
"I was a bit worried because I couldn't find her, but then she called me to see what was going on," said Johnson. "She never heard the code black."
The two met up and ran back to the cafeteria to check on the status of the patients and staff members before making their way into the medical center's chapel. In what seems like an eternity of running back and forth, checking on everyone, Johnson and her coworker finally made their way back over the north tower. They knew they had run out of time.
"We did a quick head count," Sergeant Johnson said. "There were 28 of us down there between the bathrooms and an enclosed stairwell."
And then out of nowhere, Johnson realized that she had not seen or heard from one of her other coworkers.
"Right after code black sounded, the power went out and locked all of the sliding doors closed," she said as she pauses and started crying. "We didn't know he was out there. He leaned up against a pillar under an awning against the east wall outside and rode it out."
Obviously shaken up, Sergeant Johnson went on to say that her coworker managed to escape the monster tornado with only minor scratches to his head.
"I think if he had been on the west side of the building it would have been a different story," she said. "The vehicles in the parking lot on that side of the building were swept up against the building and some were actually inside the building."
At 3:21 Johnson sent her husband and mother a text message to let them know that there were 28 people in the north building in the bathrooms and stairwell and to tell them that she loved them.
"We didn't think we were going to make it out alive," she said.
Once the tornado hit the building she remembers hearing a lot of praying from the people around her and there were a lot of children screaming on the other side of the wall in an adjacent bathroom. She remembers vividly the tornado was so loud with the wind and objects crashing on the other side of the walls but could still hear the children screaming over all of it.
Johnson and the other 28 people sheltered in place narrowly escaped the disaster. She said there was a doctor's office on the northwest side of the building that was completely taken out and she was on the other side of the wall.
"It was so loud and lasted so long. It was probably a minute and a half before it was finally past us," she said.
As soon as the noise and banging stopped, Johnson and her coworker went right into action taking a head count to make sure everyone was ok.
They all then made their way out of the building pushing aside the rubble that lay in their path. Johnson said she expected major damage outside, but what she didn't expect was how quickly the fire department and ambulance first responders had already arrived on scene.
"When we came out of the building they were already there waiting to help anyone and everyone they could," Johnson said. "I'm just shocked at how fast they got there. Everyone from the fire and ambulance crews to everyone that worked in medical center did such an amazing job. They all deserve so much credit."
Once all 28 were outside, Johnson said she noticed the 7-11 convenience store across the street had been completely blown away. She was not able to get across the street because live power lines covered Telephone Road.
"We noticed Agapeland Learning Center on the other side of the road was also leveled, so we ran over there to help," Johnson, once again crying, said. "Once we got over there we started pulling the little children through a hole in the wall of what was left."
The winds were estimated at over 200 mph when the deadly tornado hit the Moore Medical Center, but miraculously no one from the learning center was severely injured. Johnson credits a lot of her fast response to her medical and military training.
"You switch gears and get the things done that you need to get done until you have the time to decompress," she said. "Then you hug the ones that you almost lost."
When asked if Sergeant Johnson has had time to decompress, she started crying again and said "no...no."