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Victims, Volunteers Flood Area Medical Centers

Oklahoman Published: May 4, 1999
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As the night wore on, family members searched frantically for wives, husbands and children at the hospital. Volunteers also flooded the hospital, but many were turned away. The hospital's parking lot overflowed, and ambulances struggled through the congestion to deliver tornado victims.

Paramedic John Griffith directed the vehicles to the circular driveway as sirens wailed through the night. A few seconds later, two pickups with injured people wrapped in blankets and strapped to makeshift gurneys speeded through the entrance as an ambulance stalled, blocking a section of the drive. Volunteers struggled to push the ambulance out of the way as medical staff triaged the victims.

At Hillcrest Medical Center, hospital officials worked feverishly to flip through handwritten pages listing the injured, including young children who did not know their last names.

Distraught relatives kept rushing through the sliding-glass doors, hoping to find their loved ones. A father described his 13-year-old son and told of a gash on his head and his broken teeth. Another man came searching for his 78-year-old mother. A man in bare feet, his shoes lost from running through debris, came to find his brother.

"Every one of them was gone," the man said of the homes in the neighborhood he had left. "Every one of them."

Ruth Hensley, a registered nurse visiting Moore, hid under an Interstate 35 overpass during the storm. She then helped a paramedic bring a mother and her 11-year-old son to the hospital. The mother had a fractured leg, while the boy's shoulder was severely cut.

"They were in a house that was totaled," Hensley said. "The little boy said he flew up in the air and his mother caught him and held him down."

As Lawson waited in the Hillcrest emergency room, shock suddenly gave way to a painful reality: His injured grandson Matthew Chapman's fourth birthday is Wednesday, and all his presents were wiped away by a tornado.

But Lawson promised the boy will get a birthday party, even if his home no longer exists.

"Fortunately, my wife and I hadn't had a chance to get his presents yet, so at least he'll get a couple of things," the grandfather said.

By Staff writers Jim Killackey, Chip Minty, Bobby Ross Jr., Melissa Nelson and Christy Watson

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