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. yari

    I think that this is the perfect moment for those that don't have GOD in there hearts to pray for forgiveness these r all signs that should b taken seriously Ill be praying for the deceased as well as for the people who made it alive...may GOD bless us all and have mercy on our souls because this is just the beginning of it all...

    May 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Boooooo.....If there was a God that cared, why would things like this happen?

      May 24, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • CarCar

      I agree with Yari. I often wonder if atheists are really atheists, or souls who have been hurt and are angry. They often seem so angry at the mere suggestion on God. Prayer saved a lot of lives and this story is just one example. There is most certainly a God. Just as much as prayer saves lives, it can also be used to find out if there is a God, but you have to have a little faith, just a little. The idea may seem crazy, but I couldn't imagine going through life not believing, not knowing. I've leaned on Him more times than I can count and have been blessed with miracles every time. Someone posed the question of why would a loving God allow bad things to happen. Well, why did such a perfect God have to suffer so much? To save us. It was the only way. We have to go through difficulty in our lives in order to progress. Think about explaining a hardship to someone who hasn't walked in your shoes. Think about explaining to them what you've learned. They don't understand, right, because they haven't been through it. What's the point of this life if we aren't challenged? How much do you learn when things are easy? How is it possible to appreciate real joy without hardships in between? It is a loving God who allows us to go through difficulty for our experience and growth while being right by our side to help us through it and answering when we call on Him. Difficulty also blesses us with a chance to help others and to develop bonds that otherwise wouldn't exist if there was no tragedy. How can anyone be so sure there isn't a God? Have you tried believing? I know this post sounds incredibly preachy, but if you consider that it may be true, that the woman telling the above story really was blessed with safety because of her prayer and faith, God will confirm your belief so that when the road gets rough, your fear will be minimized and your hope and strength will be astronomical.

      May 24, 2011 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
    • big d

      Maybe this is a good time for YOU to learn to type like an adult, not a tween on a cell phone.

      May 24, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Religious People Are Retarded

      i'm so angry that you mumble alone to yourself at night and to your food.

      silly religious people, myths are for kids.

      May 27, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. U.S.Army-OverLord

    The beginning of what yari?!? Don't put God into your nonsense babble about the end of the world. That show is not selling tickets here. Let God show us the end. He does not need your help with this nonsense.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJ Wood

      How is it that you speak for Him? You should correct your behavior, and an apology is in order. Otherwise, you face the council. Good day, sir!

      May 24, 2011 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  3. AuntieP

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Joplin. Ten to twenty minutes is not a lot of time to hunker down, and not everyplace has a place to hunker. Definitely do not stay in your car! OMG! Did you not see the cars destroyed, toppled onto buildings, tossed around like hotwheels tied to a kite tail?! Center of any building is correct. I live between Joplin and Reading (Saturday's deadly tornado), I do not have a cellar or a basement in my apartment (All I can afford with todays economy). Sirens go off all the time, testing the system or false alarms. I am guily of ignoring them too. I've been lucky. The people of Joplin were not, whether they believe in God or not. You athiests need to get a clue as to the power of God, and the wrath he can serve up. He took those 116 souls because it was their time. He left the rest of us to be tested. You athiests FAILED.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Are you serious? Um, you know if just wrote a book with a bunch of scary stories in it. I think I'll call it The Boble. It will have stories about a magical man that lives in the sky. The will be an after life where if you're a good person you get to eat fat free chocolate. If you're bad you'll be tortured forever. You really believe this kr*p? Patheic...

      May 24, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. kcc

    @ Barry I guess you did not read the same article as everyone else. Where does it say anywhere in this story that she had a friend or a child with her?

    May 24, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. AuntieP

    I would rather BELIEVE in God and find out I'm wrong than to NOT BELIEVE then find out I was wrong. Go ahead and judge me for believing in a higher power, even after all this devastation. You athiests are mocking my God. But you DO have an equal right to have your beliefs, just as I do mine. You all will hear testimony over the coming days and weeks from survivors about miracles that happened during this tornado. I wonder how many of them were athiests prior to Sunday night..

    May 24, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. jd wolff

    To all u people with your praises and thanking god need i remind u of all the 100+ god was not protecting that day.that strikes me as rude and insensitive gloating

    May 24, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. jd wolff

    I believe in god but sometimes i believe we are left without his help or for whatever reason we get abandoned.i wonder how many children died?how are we to rationalize god choosing to take children?i believe god needs to be left out of some things.okay now lets hear your generic rudypoo christian answers

    May 24, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. AuntieP

    Josh, if you ever have kids of your own, maybe you can read them your 'Boble' as a bedtime story. Then see how they grow up. Dylan Kliebold didn't believe in God either. Just look at how many people SURVIVED that path of destruction. If that aint a miracle, I don't know what is. If you were hunkered down in that cooler, I bet you'd be hollering (at a God you don't believe in) just like Leutenant Dan from Forrest Gump.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. voiceofreason

    God created tornados. He is a rathful god, prone to killing people when he is in a bad mood. Or maybe its just nature via SCIENCE.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. voiceofreason

    God likes to test your faith with possible death. Sounds effed up to me. I would never do that to my kid...

    May 24, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tinman916

    12,000 children died yesterday, where is your god?

    May 24, 2011 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. mlg

    I see a lot of bad info on here, in a tornado, you get to a low lying area and not in a car or over pass, large stores are death traps, freezers are steel lined and with foam greater than 8" thick or even concrete. In a large building you are not protected. A tight confined space is better like a bathroom. As far as homes and buildings go, modern building engineering is at fault. They rely solely on fasteners, which tornadoes or high winds tear apart. Once one fails the rest fail. A brick or concrete building will do better if only they were built right. I saw a wood frame house built sometime in 1800 hit by a ef3 tornado with only the windows,doors and shingles blown out. No structual damage, that tornado killed several and level homes to foundations. And most homes from 1800 's the nails are rusted away. Costly safe rooms or steel houses are not the answer. Better codes and understanding of how buildings fail are. A owner could build a house out of concrete cheap, use icf's there fool proof, but still the windows and roof will be gone along with anything inside. I have been through joplin a few years ago, may god be with you.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. powercatz

    How about we leave GOD out of this discussion. Whether a person believes in GOD or not is irrelavant. Those ppl that lost their lives were Human Beings with families that loved them. I have a daughter that goes to college in Joplin and for 4 hrs Sunday nite I couldn't get a hold of her to find out if she was ok. I was lucky, she was fine physically but mentally she is devastated. I want all of you to think how you'd feel not knowing if your child or parent or whom ever you love most was ok. It's a shame that we have all became so engrossed in our own lives that we lose sight of Humanity as a whole. You only see these ppl on the WORST day of their lives.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. beagodschild

    I'm so tired of ppl blaming God every time something bag happens, God does take life He gives life and receives life back when someone dies, this is nature and weather patterns, shifting of the earth core, these are the reasons for natural disasters. Our Creator our God is loving and compassionate, if you only knew Him. Satan's job is to make ppl hate and doubt God existence, he's behind every evil, wicked crime. When a child is killed ppl want to blame God, when the twin towers were attacked ppl blamed God, when innocent ppl are murdered ppl blame God, and when none believers end up in hell they spend an eternity blaming God. The truth is we all have a choice, the bibles tells us that God wishes that none should perish (go to hell) but that all would come to repentance, it not His wish, but it is your choice.

    May 24, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Eric

    Wow, I knew it wouldn't take long for the bible bangers to show up. Over 100 innocent people die and somehow it's a frigging miracle. How weak minded you must be to have to lean on a fake sky man to get strength. The fury of mother nature cares not of your belief in false prophets. We are all subject to her wrath. Man, women, children, catholic, Muslim athiest. SCIENCE and PROGRESSION is our savior, not the sky man.

    May 24, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
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