Oklahoma tornadoes: Moore hospital doctors scramble ahead of twister

Tornado warnings were sounded on hospital’s intercom systems

BY PHILLIP O’CONNOR Published: May 22, 2013
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MOORE — Dr. Stephanie Barnhart began the scariest day of her life with her usual routine — listening to Christian music on the car radio, thinking about the 12-hour workday ahead and offering a silent prayer for strength to handle whatever she might encounter.

With bad weather in the forecast Monday, Barnhart, 34, expected nothing more than the usual slips and falls and car-accident victims that typically turned up in the Moore Medical Center emergency room after rains.

The morning passed with few patients and nothing exciting. Abdominal pains, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach flu. Meanwhile, televisions in her office and at the nurses’ station gave steady updates on the storms broiling across the state.

Sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., Barnhart was sitting in her office filling out patient forms, when an announcement came over the hospital intercom announcing a tornado watch.

A Midwest City native and veteran of many Oklahoma tornado seasons, Barnhart took little notice.

“I was like uh, OK, severe weather. OK, it’s a possibility and ... you keep on doing what you gotta do,” she said.

She continued to make her rounds.

A few minutes later, the hospital intercom sounded again, this time announcing a tornado warning.

Now, Barnhart gathered with other hospital staffers around the nurses’ station TV. They watched as the tornado plowed through Newcastle, a dozen miles away. A weatherman described the predicted path — northeast toward the hospital.

Again, the hospital intercom sounded, this time announcing a tornado alert.

“Oh man, this is bad,” Barnhart thought “We’ve got to move.”

Barnhart rushed to her office to grab her purse, a pharmacy book and her prescription pad.

“I was still in doctor mode,” she said. “I was still doing my job.”

Unknown to Barnhart, dozens of other patients, staff and members of the public who came to the hospital seeking shelter were huddling in the cafeteria and another interior hallway.

Barnhart’s group of about a dozen people retreated to another area deeper within the hospital where a single TV tracked the tornado’s relentless progress toward them.

In the meantime, two more emergency room patients had arrived, one by ambulance having suffered a seizure and another, a young girl, who’d suffered an asthma attack.

Staff members handed out blankets and pulled mattresses from gurneys that people used to cover themselves. Barnhart’s group was joined by several other staff members as well as a half-dozen patients in wheelchairs who were staying in rooms on the second floor.

Nobody talked. The only sound came from the television and the girl suffering from asthma and her mother, who both sobbed quietly.

‘Coming for us’

“We knew it was coming for us,” Barnhart said. “I think they were very terrified, which we all were.”



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