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Joplin Remembered: Nurse Recounts Hospital Devastation

(Joplin, MO) -- One year ago, nearly 200 patients were inside St. John's hospital in Joplin, getting medical treatment.

(Joplin, MO) -- One year ago, nearly 200 patients were inside St. John's hospital in Joplin, getting medical treatment. 

Another 117 were there also -- St. John's employees.

Little did anyone know how a facility that's meant to heal would suffer some of the worst wounds of all. Here's an account from inside the hospital, as told by ER nurse Terri Edens.

"It really had been a typical Sunday," Edens remembers.

About halfway through her 12-hour shift on May 22nd, Registered Nurse Terri Edens and other hospital staff were aware of storm warnings.

"Told us tornado watch, expect it to hit at the airport."

But when the lights went out in a supply closet, Edens knew something was very wrong.

"Looked through a window. Limbs and sheetrock flying through the ER. It took a few seconds [to register] this is a tornado. Twigs and limbs were coming in under the door. That's when I really got scared. Then it was over, it was quiet. Afraid because quiet was not a good sign. I could hear screaming. Tthat's what I still have trouble with."

Edens and her co-workers began evacuating patients from seven floors, with only one clear stairwell.  And just as patients headed out, more headed in.

"Looked out and saw a sea of people. We had nothing. No supplies, gauze, sutures."

They triaged with paper towel and tape. Volunteers in pickup trucks -- not ambulances -- brought patients in, and moved others to nearby medical facilities.  For some patients, help came too late.

"There were tents in the parking lot, at least one was a morgue."

It was hours before staff realized how far-reaching the damage was, many not knowing the status of their own families.

"Some of the 117 here lost homes, but they stayed working."

There were only minor injuries among hospital staff, but five patients and one visitor died.

Despite the death, the storm brought a new perspective on life.

"I can't remember what I was stressing about before May 22nd," Edens admits. "You learn things just don't matter. It's just better every day."

Terri says one thing that will always stay in her mind about that day. Prior to the tornado, three patients came into the ER with horse-related injuries. Three separate cases of horses becoming agitated to the point that they harmed their rider.

Terri says her mother always told her animals can sense changes in the atmosphere. She says she'll always wonder if those animals could sense the approaching devastation.

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