JOPLIN, Mo. — Rod Pace, Med Flight manager at St. John's Regional Medical Center, watched the tornado form to the southwest like so many before.
He was on the second floor of St John's on Sunday evening to finish payroll before an expected frantic Monday. He'd wrapped up his work, but decided to stay an extra 15 to 20 minutes to let the weather pass.
Pace saw the swirling rain start to form about a mile off. The flags outside suddenly stopped blowing to the northeast, only to be pulled back to the west.
That was about the time the glass doors he was holding onto — the ones with the 100-pound magnet to keep them locked — were pulled open with Pace still holding on to the handles. He was sucked outside briefly and then pushed back in like a rag doll, all the while holding on to the handles.
He headed to the hospital's interior for cover. Then he heard the roar. Pace and a co-worker pushed on a door to make sure it stayed shut, but it kept swaying back and forth.
"I've heard people talk about being in tornadoes and saying it felt like the building was breathing," Pace said. "It was just like that."
Outside, an explosion. Glass shards pelted the exterior. Pace heard screams.
He helped pull debris off two people outside the emergency room.
"There was a lot of strength in the leadership in the hospital and ER here," Pace said.