A Sunday dinner at a Joplin, Mo., restaurant turned into a life-or-death escape from a tornado for Mark Bridges and his wife. The two were at CiCi’s Pizza when they heard the tornado sirens.

A Sunday dinner at a Joplin, Mo., restaurant turned into a life-or-death escape from a tornado for Mark Bridges and his wife. The two were at CiCi’s Pizza when they heard the tornado sirens.

“… By the grace of God, there was a guy that said, ‘there is a funnel right there,’ and he went into the restaurant,” Bridges said. “I took off heading east (in my vehicle), and basically outran it. The tornado was just right on our tail. We just out-maneuvered it, basically.”

Bridges and his wife got past the tornado and went south. Bridges then turned around and came back to Joplin.

As far as the size of the tornado, “ … I would say that it was probably in some areas –– and I have heard this said –– probably a half mile wide, and I have heard anywhere from four to five miles long,” said Bridges.

In the aftermath of the tornado, Bridges said he picked up bodies along the road.

“There were different staging areas. We were just picking up bodies and taking them out to the (portable) morgue that we set up on the parking lot south of the stadium at Missouri Southern State University,” Bridges said. “We have some reefer trailers in there. They are bringing more services in today, so that is where we started the identification process on them.”

As of Monday afternoon, the process of finding people either dead or alive is ongoing.

“So what we are going to do today is obviously look through all of these houses that are mangled and see if there is any life or dead people under that,” Bridges said. “They were going house to house and yelling, ‘Can anyone hear me?’ And then if nobody could, they would go on to the next house.”

‘God was with us’

In Joplin, Mo., 20th Street looks like a war zone. Houses, buildings and businesses are leveled. People are walking around because their vehicles were turned upside down or thrown into trees or the windows are smashed.

Priscilla Gibson was at her house on 20th Street when she heard the tornado sirens go off.

“At the last minute, I told my (15-year-old) son, I heard the alarms going off and that we needed to take cover,” Gibson said. “He grabbed his futon mattress and threw it over me and our three little yorkies. We heard the sirens and jumped in the bathtub and God was with us –– that is all that I can say. He really helped me to keep it together, but I thought that we were fixing to die because the house was coming down on us, boards were hitting me in the back. But we are alright.”  

Joplin hospital is ‘unusable’

Around 180 patients were at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., when the storm hit Sunday.

“The hospital was completely evacuated,” said Miranda Lewis, media relations with St. John’s. “Shortly after the time it hit, we began transferring critical patients to Freeman (Mo.) … At this point, we are working out of Memorial Hall (an entertainment and events center) in Joplin. The hospital is completely unusable at this point.”