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. naimah

    God Bless!

    May 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jack weed

    What devaststion wow

    May 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jack weed

    Yes I agree god bless jack weed

    May 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThisDuDe

      Nice name

      May 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Name*Felicia Washington

    All Glory to God, I praise God that his hand of protection was upon you. May God be be exhaulted . Don't stop praising him, continue to lift his name @ all time, Amen

    May 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. leeintulsa

    More storms in tulsa now. Usually head towards joplin. Imagine still looking for people, or waiting to be rescued, as more storms – and darkness – roll in..

    May 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThisDuDe

      Thats not depressing at all

      May 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |

  6. What about the 116 He did not have his hand of protection over?

    May 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      When people can't wrap their heads around something, evoking their diety makes them feel better. Hey, whatever it takes, ya know?

      May 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      You know...Athiests have got to be the most insecure and tormented people on earth. Ive got my questions and skepticism for religion, bug when I see all of the Athiests littered through CNN when they profess to be so free from the shackles of religion, something just never adds up for me.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Insecure? Tormented? Your gonna have to be more specific..

      May 23, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joy Martin

    I live in north Al and have been working tornado disaster relief for almost a month. I suggest making neighborhood storm shelters mandatory or making inground shelters mandatory for all homes built without basements.

    May 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Is that a federal or state expense? Not agin it, just hammerin out details..

      May 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      I think it's a crime to be able to buy a new house in the midwest that doesn't come equipped with a storm shelter. It was at the top of my list of requirements when I moved to Oklahoma; couldn't find one either new or preexisting. I put one in my new house immediately. $3000 is not a lot to throw into the cost of building a house. I just don't get it.

      May 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. chris

    first of all the middle of the store at wal-mart is the safest place. i have a friend that works at that wal-mart who because of that her and her husband survived. you are more likely to have something fall on you and crush you next to a brick wall. thankfully my mom quite working there at that very wal-mart to take care of my grandma who moved in with my parents six months ago because she lived in an apartment next to saint john hospital.

    May 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SSLance

    God bless all of them. They need all the blessings they can get.

    May 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. misty

    My God bless all the people that endured such a painful event in Joplin. Hello everyone I live in Houston and every morning I read cnn breaking news story. And I couldnt believe the devastation of destruction that I saw on my cell ph. God Bless Each And Every one of you! !!!

    May 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Confused

    Not to be a bother here, but just to get the facts straight:
    Tussiona is a Dollar Tree cashier, who was in Joplin to get a few things, standing at the cashier stand at a Dollar Tree (but not the Dollar Tree she works at) when the storm hit?

    Wait, I reread it and now think that CNN spliced two comments together...

    And also, Dollar Trees have coolers?

    May 23, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jackie

    Prayers go out to the town of Joplin and to the families that lost loved ones during this horrible disaster.

    May 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Me

    Praise to the magical sky wizard! Oh wait. He created tornados. "fall to your knees and praise me for not killing you with something I created". Hilarious.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • GODBLESSTHELOST

      I JUST HAVE TO SAY THAT FOR THOSE OF YOU LOST....I WILL PRAY FOR YOU. THOSE OF US WHO BELIEVE IN GOD DONT BELIEVE IN HIM BC WE ARE INSECURE. THERE IS A GOD AND YES HE IS THE EXPLANATION FOR OUR VERY BEING HE IS THE CREATOR. HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW? OR THINK YOU KNOW? IF YOU ARE EVER UNSTUBBORN ENOUGH TO LET GOD INTO YOUR HEART AND HAVE A INCH OF FAITH MAYBE YOU CAN WITNESS WHAT GOD CAN DO. PEOPLE BLAME GOD FOR SICKNESS CANCERS WHATEVER YOU FEEL LIKE BLAMING ON HIM. AT SOME POINT IN TIME WE ALL WILL DIE OF SOME CAUSE, GOD CREATED US. WHEN ITS OUR TIME TO GO HOME BE READY. THOSE WHO ARE SAVED WILL BE BLESSED WITH A GLORIFIED BODY EARTH ISNT OUR PERMANANT HOME AND OUR BODYS ARE ON LOAN, THERES A MUCH BETTER PLACE THAN HERE. THERES ALSO A WORSE PLACE THAN HERE. i DONT FIND ATHEISTS INTERESTING AT ALL, I FIND THAT THEY ARE LOST IN A TOTAL WORLD OF WICKED DARKNESS AND ITS SAD BUT NOT INTERESTING. LOOK AROUND YOU EVERYTHING THAT SURROUNDS YOU PROVES HIS EXISTENCE, SORRY YOUR BLIND TO SEE THAT. MAN WILL DESTROY MANKIND BC FREE WILL GOD PROTECTS HIS PEOPLE THERE WILL COME A DAY WHEN WE ALL HAVE TO ANSWER TO HIM ALL I CAN SAY IS GET RIGHT WITH HIM, IF YOU DENY THY FATHER HE WILL DENY YOU!!! I DONT UNDERSTAND HOW THIS POST EVERYTHING GOT TO RELIGON AND DEBATING AND ARGUING, JOPLIN MO EXPERIENCED A HORRIBLE TRADGEDY, MY PRAYERS TO JOPLIN AND GOD BLESS YALL FOR THOSE OF YOU BEING HYPETHETICALLY CRITICAL AND CHILDISH POSTING REDICULOUS COMMENTS I WOULD BE ASHAMED OF MYSELF. DO YOU KNOW THERE ARE PROB MANY FAMILIES THAT WERE VICTIMS AN LOST LOVED ONES THAT COULD BE READING ALL OF THIS, AND SOME OF YOU FIND IT HUMOROUS, ITS AMAZING HOW MANY PPL HAVE NO RESPECT OR MORALS FOR OTHERS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF WHAT I SAID MANKIND WILL DESTROY THIS EARTH, THERE IS NO RESPECT NO REMORSE NO MORALS AND SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS AND THIS IS ALL THAT PPL HAVE TO SAY.

      May 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bobbie66

    Ahem, Guys... Who's not suing the airline industry after this catastrophe? e.g. central Florida 'No Name Storm'!

    * – kw

    May 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ceasar

    I am so glad to hear you and other people are alive and well... my heart goes out to the loved ones lost... I believe your story I just read matches the video I watched on youtube... if that is not it, I apologize but the video I watched (mainly listened to) was at a store, then th glass shattered and everyone ran into the cooler and just by watching this vid, I teared up listening to the calamity from the tornado, as well as cries and screams from the survivors... but this country will build and rebuild and rebuild because we are united! God bless you and stay safe

    May 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
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