Tornado survivor: Split-second decision saved my life
Tussiona Mikell debated taking shelter at this Walmart -- but instead chose to stay hunkered down at the Dollar Tree.
May 23rd, 2011
02:36 PM ET

Tornado survivor: Split-second decision saved my life

Tussiona Mikell was at the cashier's register inside a Dollar Tree in Joplin, Missouri, when a friend called her to tell her a storm was approaching. Mikell lives 12 miles from Joplin, in Neosho, Missouri, and was in town just to get a few items.

Then, the sirens started blaring.

The alerts were saying a tornado was headed straight down the street. Mikell took a split-second to make a decision. At first, she was going to head to the Walmart nearby, but she was afraid she might get caught trying to make it.

The Dollar Tree cashier said "Well, we have a freezer here, we normally go into the cooler when something like this happens," Mikell told CNN. "They were telling everyone, 'Get to the back, get to the back.' We rushed into the coolers and we could just hear everything on the outside, but we couldn't see what was happening."

Mikell and five others waited out the storm in the cooler.

"We could just hear things caving in but we couldn't see what was going on," she told CNN. "There was a lot of calling on Jesus. People were crying, saying different things. I was calling out 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' "

Finally, after about 45 minutes, the group tried to make their way out of cooler. But it wouldn't budge.

"The ceiling fell down and blocked the freezer," Mikell recalled. "Everyone was trying to push to get (the door) cracked open. But we couldn't get it wide enough to get us out."

The group all tried pulling out their cell phones - but couldn't call for help. They had no service.

Then, the smell of gas started to pour into the freezer, Mikell said. The group feared the stores gas line had broken.

With the walls of the store mostly destroyed around them, they were able to see through the crack they had made in the freezer and shouted to a passerby for help.

"Everything else around was destroyed," she said. "We were hollering, 'Help, help, we're stuck.' "

Two people helped pry open the freezer and Mikell and the others were able to make their way out of the shelter.

That's when Mikell heard about the massive damage and injuries at Walmart.

"There was so much debris," Mikell said, recalling what she first saw when she stepped outside. "When I came out, everything was demolished. It's unbelievable."

The parking lot was littered with overturned cars and rubble. The exterior was damaged and according to witnesses, the damage was massive, Mikell said.

"How blessed I was not to even go over there," she said. "It was a disaster over at Walmart. When I think about the quick choice I made, it makes me shake."

Despite being a little sore and achy from being cramped into the partially collapsed store freezer, Mikell is profoundly thankful that she was able to even speak with CNN Monday.

"I'm alive and I'm so grateful," she said.

soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. beagodschild

    I have to make some corrections to my prev post, I was so angry with the comments about God, "God does not take life" He gives and receives life. Mother nature is the cause that I do agree with Eric. But Eric when you see the stars the moon and the sun, the ocean and the mountains, when you hear the rain and feel your heart beat in your chest, when you are able to think with a computer like brain, feel pain, laugh, and cry, how can you say there is no creator, the plants, animals tree, are all witnesses of His existance, not trying to change your mind cause I see its made up, the next time you see a beautiful sun set, or rise just know there is a God and you/we will meet Him one day.

    May 24, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • dross

      You give God credit for the good but not the bad? How is that possible?! If he is only responsible for the good then why does he bless the US so much and let kids everyday die of cancer and hunger? Does not sounds just to me. Nature is not the explanation for God, it is just nature...insecure people need a God to explain what they can not answer.

      May 24, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • KLM

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
      I might be insecure because while I am well educated and a professional who deals in logic on a daily basis, I also realize that for every explanation that man conceives, he opens the door to yet more. No matter how much we learn, there is always so much more to learn. Therefore anyone who states unequivocally a belief whether for or against the true nature of the universe, show not how much they know, but how little they truly understand what it is they know.

      May 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. beagodschild

    This is my final post on this subject I refuse to debate, there is evil in the world because of Satan, not God, ppl have a choice and they choose to do evil in the garden of eden God gave man deminion over the earth, God is not controling what man is doing, we have free will. I know there is a God and I know what He has done for me and what He has delivered me from, and how He has directed my life. You have not had an experience with your creator because you do not want to know him, but He does exist and those who believe are a minority so I expect these posts to be in agreement with you. All of creation testifies of His existence. Look around.

    May 24, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. rivercity

    I find atheists to be interesting in the fact that they seem so hurt inside.GOD absolutely had a hand in this and as far as why some die and some do not it is as simple as it was their time. How can someone live with a knife jammed into their skull through their brain yet another has what would be considered a normal car accident with minor damage to the vehicle yet they are killed? When its your time accept it and hope you were right with GOD....

    May 24, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Nannystate

      Dude, it's called coincidence and happenstance. Plain and simple. Good luck with the fairy tale anyway...

      May 25, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Diane Birchfield

    I'm a truck driver and I was in Joplin the morning after the tornado.awful.makes me cry for the people.I'm so very sorry for your losses.The Flying J was one of my fuelstops and the sight of all those trucks and trailers tossed about and destroyed breaks my heart for them.I know firsthand how terrible it is to be in a truck in this situation.There is just no good place for us to be in a tornado and very few shelters if any that we can get to intime.My thoughts are with you all.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GOD?

    There is no GOD!

    May 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • MomWIthFaith

      Well, God Bless you anyway! Have a good night!

      May 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. AuntieP

    I don't care that you athiests don't believe in God- from my knowledge, you stubborn buffoons will find out someday on your own. What bothers me is that I have every right to MY beliefs just as you do yours. I believe in God. God didn't destroy Joplin, Satan did. God has brought the survivors and countless volunteers together to work this miracle. Compassion is GODLY-Its the right thing to do. God set the rules for doing 'right' vs 'wrong', not Darwin...Just look at the images of the rubble, it's a miracle more weren't killed. If I want to pray for these people, then I WILL! God speed to the rescuers and the recovery efforts. To those Darwin souls-Good luck with that. At some point in your directionless lives, you WILL drop to your knees and pray too.

    May 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nannystate

      Uh, compassion would have been not letting those people die in the first place. And do you mean to tell me that in this god-fearing part of the country, all those who died were under the influence of Satan? Where was god as far as protecting the true believers? Oh, it was just their time(?) and they happened to get taken out along with the sinners? Good grief, it's amazing what mental hoops you believers can jump through in your brainwashed minds to maintain the illusion.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • glo

      Directionless lives? Okay. Whatever you say. Thank you for continuously confirming my thoughts and beliefs.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MacKenszee Roberts

    I would just like to say I'm so glad all of the people got out, I was one of the "two people" mentioned, along with Zach Bobbett. We were just glad we heard the yelling coming from the freezer as we exited the back of the Dollar Tree, headed to check cars nearby for survivors. We just knew after we made it out alive we had to help those who didn't.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Religious People Are Retarded

    Tell a kid in Africa who had his face removed from a disease there is a god and that's god's "special plan" for him.

    Stop acting like a child, there is not such thing as unicorns, demons, and gods. GROW THE F*** UP.

    May 27, 2011 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. Observer1290

    Obama shut down the weather forecasting satellites that could have warned of this disaster.
    Obama is either a liar or insane.

    May 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
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