Joplin tornado survivor glad he heeded the sirens for once
Debris is strewn across Joplin, Missouri, on Tuesday, two days after a tornado there killed at least 124 people.
May 24th, 2011
10:49 PM ET

Joplin tornado survivor glad he heeded the sirens for once

A tornado on Sunday killed at least 125 people in Joplin, Missouri, authorities said Tuesday. Here are stories of some of those who survived the storm:

Rick Morgan: I usually ignore the sirens

Rick Morgan says he came close to doing Sunday what he normally does when he hears tornado sirens in Joplin: ignore them. Had he done so this time, he says, he probably would have died.

He was in a store, intending to buy some milk, when the sirens started Sunday.

"The store manager says, 'Everyone who is in the store, you need to go back to the produce cooler, because the sirens are going off,'" Morgan recalled Tuesday for CNN. "Well instead, following my M.O., instead of going to the produce cooler, I think, 'Well, I'll just drive home.' "

As Morgan approached the door, the store owner protested. And then four people on the outside "ran screaming into the store," Morgan said.

"Already at this point, I guess the wind was so high, and the debris was probably cutting them to pieces," Morgan said. "When I saw what was out there, it’s like, 'Well, this is the real thing.' "

Morgan and everyone else in the store did what many others were doing in other Joplin stores and restaurants: They took shelter in a walk-in refrigerator. The store started getting heavily damaged about a minute later, but the 35 or so people in the cooler were OK.

"I don't remember the sound. ... What I remember is, like, Armageddon. I mean, it’s like everything you think is real and solid is suddenly … blowing up,"  Morgan said. "As we stood, the door was opened on the produce cooler, and (we were) looking into the rest of the store, and it just exploded. Everything (was) flying everywhere. I don’t have words to describe it. "

Kasey Grant, new high school graduate, ran for shelter

Kasey Grant was a high school graduate for about an hour when the tornado approached her town.

She had just given a speech at the commencement ceremony for her class of about 450 Joplin High School seniors. After the event at a local university ended, as she and her mother were preparing to leave, the tornado sirens started.

"We had no idea where the tornado was, so we were going to try to make it home (in our car)," Grant said. "But on the way home, we got a phone call from my aunt, and she told us she could see on the news (that) the tornado was on 7th Street, which was extremely close to where we were.

"So she told us to get out of the car immediately, so we pulled into the mall, got out of the car and went into the storm shelter in there and just waited out for probably about 30 to 40 minutes."

Those in the shelter were fine. When they left, they saw much of Joplin destroyed, including the high school.

"I broke down in the car (when) we drove past the high school. The entire top floor of the high school is just gone," Grant said. "You can't even tell where you are when you're over in that part of town."

IHOP manager ushered customers, employees to safety

Thirty customers - including two members of the General Assembly - and six workers were inside an IHOP restaurant in Joplin when the tornado sirens started. The manager, Danny Khatib, wasn't worried at first, but the rain, hail and wind got worse.

"You could hear the noises before the windows (broke) and stuff," Khatib told CNN. "Everybody got scared. We thought the best way to go (was to) go to the back and hide."

Khatib crammed as many people as he could into the walk-in freezer (15 people) and the walk-in refrigerator (another 15 people). The remaining six huddled outside those areas, and all 36 stayed where they were for about five minutes.

When the noise stopped, everyone got out and saw most of the restaurant was wrecked, though some plates of food remained on some tables. All 36 people survived.

"Thank God. Lucky no one got hurt," said Khatib, whose Joplin-area house was destroyed in the storm.

Khatib said the restaurant will "come back better than before."

Priest found unhurt in rubble of rectory

The Rev. Justin Monaghan, pastor of Joplin's St. Mary Catholic Church, was in his rectory when the storm hit. He took shelter in a bathtub, face down, and tried to cover his head.

"I heard this noise, and I thought, 'Oh, what is happening,?' I lay there; I (was) just praying and said, 'Thy will be done.'"

"I said, 'You know, God, if this was meant to be, how much I love you.'"

When the noise stopped, Monaghan, 70, was OK. But when he tried to open the bathroom door, "everything was blocking it," he said.

Much of the rest of the rectory was rubble. He waited there for an hour before he heard church members looking for him.

"I hollered at the top of my voice, because there was water dripping and making noise. I said, 'Where are you?' And I pulled some kind of board … off and put it in the air'" to attract attention, he said.

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Couple find dog alive after wind 'blew it out the front window'

Pierre Jason and his wife, Penny Jason, sought shelter in a bathroom of their Joplin home when they heard the tornado sirens Sunday. Their cat and their dog, however, refused to follow them inside.

"Next thing I heard was the breaking of glass, and the back wall of our house just collapsed, and the wind picked up our dog and blew it out the front window," Pierre Jason told CNN's "In the Arena" on Tuesday.

The couple huddled in the bathroom, and "the house just tumbled and came down on us," he said.

"We just held tight to each other, just prayed, hoping that it would pass by," he said. "The next thing I knew, we were covered in rubble. The washing machine and dryer were laying on the side, on my leg."

The house was destroyed, but the couple were OK. They don't know where their cat is, but they found their dog alive and "just fine" amid the home's rubble on Monday, Pierre Jason said.

soundoff (177 Responses)
  1. Jody

    It's absolutely amazing to me how people who consider themselves "open minded", "accepting", "tolerant", etc. are so unwilling to allow a difference of opinion go without slamming that person for their beliefs. If people believe in God, turn to God and pray, find comfort in the words of the Bible....why do you care so much? Why must you so hatefully and disrespectfully slam their heartfelt beliefs? What are you so afraid of?

    May 25, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • lumps

      Fantastic post! Well said.

      May 25, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Whitney

      Agreed, Jody! People who are not of the christian faith expect us christians to be tolerant of their non-belief, but they are completely intollerant of our belief. It's a two way street people!

      May 25, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • LA

      Very well said indeed. So much for them being the advanced humans they claim to be. A truly enlightened person respects and takes pleasure in the diversity of all forms of human culture, wether they subscribe to it or not. Many's the time a non-believer has told me how superior they are, all the while denying me the respect I extend to their worldview as their right. It's beyond ironic and hypocritical. Kinda like a fundamentalist faith. But they fail to see the obvious paralells.

      May 25, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • dblaa

      I think I can help you with this. As an Atheist, it just gets VERY frustrating having god shoved down my throat CONSTANTLY. It's on our money, it's in our pledges, it is just EVERYWHERE. Churches are even tax exempt. I try hard not to get too aggravated or critical of others beliefs, but it is just so pervasive. I am always being proselytized and pressured to "find god"... almost everyone has zero respect for my desire to live as secular a life as possible. People are SO adamant and emotional about what they believe that it always turns into a hateful shouting match. I wish we could all just be more tolerant, but it rarely works out that way.

      May 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sari

      @dblaa and @Whitney.

      Until tolerance occurs from BOTH sides, people will be angry. Both of you need to rethink your stances. Not every athiest decries religious people, and not every religious person decries athiesm.

      May 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Oh boo-hoo, spare me the persecuted Christian routine. Call me when an atheist can serve as president of this nation.

      It wasn't too long ago that y'all were burning folks at the stake – now that atheists are growing in number, suddenly it's the polite "let's all love each other and embrace tolerance" line...

      May 25, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shawna

    My heart goes out to not only the people of joplin but all the people who have lost family and property in this years storm season. In response to all the comments on here, I have noted 2 thing about the majority of these posts. 1: Some people are not happy unless they are trying to make others feel like less of a human. 2: It is disheartening that part of our country is going through an unimaginable time that no one should have to go through, and so many people are making less of the situation by arguing if there is a God or not, if some part of the government is the cause of it. I wish people would open their heart and let just a little bit of common sense in!

    May 25, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. kk

    "Their dog and their cat, however, refused to follow them inside". WTH?! That's when you pick them up and CARRY THEM inside!!! WTH is wrong with people? Poor kitty!

    May 25, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • BB

      If a tornado of this magnitude is bearing down on you there is no time to grab your animals. You need to take shelter immediately. Your life is a higher priority than sacrificing yourself in a suicide attempt to save animals or other possessions.

      May 25, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • myesh

      Perhaps you've never tried to catch a reluctant cat, nor chased a playful or frightened dog. Rounding up one or the other can takes hours or days.

      It's inappropriate to condemn others for their actions when we haven't been in their shoes. I'm glad for them that their dog was spared injury and I pray their cat comes home safely. They have enough trouble with the loss of their church and rectory and friends. They've no need for judgmentalism and coals of fire heaped upon their heads as well.

      May 25, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Dwayne

      Possibly the animals are frightened and running around? Not sure I would take a whole lot of time trying to catch them with a tornado about to strike. I would do what I could, but their on their own if they keep running. Nice second guessing there kk

      May 25, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • YDB

      Yeah, you go chase the dumb cat into the tornado. your a sharp one!

      May 25, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • greendiamond


      May 25, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Dwayne

      Hey Greendiamond, you neglected to point out I used their instead of they're while you were correcting the other poster. Because we all know that reminding someone they are using poor grammer is incredibly important to most post replies.

      May 25, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Well its apparent kk would not have made it.

      May 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dwayne

      Darwinism would have kicked in

      May 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • love

      At this time, i think KK already learned from you guys that not to be judgemental of others especially when you are not experiencing what they've gone through. But amidst all of this, we should be thankful that the couple lives were spared as well as their dog.

      May 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brandi

    Kk, you obviously have never been through a tornado. My family and I went through a F3 tornado in 1996 and our animals hid from us. We were trying to get my cat out from under my bed and it was hissing and scratching me. I had to get in the closet without her. What is wrong with you that you would judge them on something like that especially since you have no idea what you are spouting! Animals have the natural reaction to hide and they freak out because they sense the changes in the atmosphere before we do and it's worse on their little bodies. I found your comment ignorant and rather rude.

    May 25, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • YDB


      May 25, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      More like incredibly ignorant and extremely rude.

      May 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas Howard

    I can understand the thinking here. I live in Kansas and have seen a tornado once about a mile away. I was in the country so there weren't any sirens. I've probably heard tornado sirens in one place or the other thousands of times. So in my personal experience, when I've heard sirens there's not been a tornado 100% of the time. After a while you become desynthesized to them, and it's hard not to assume that the tornado is probably on the other side of the county.

    May 25, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Another Chris

      Did you mean "desensitized"? desynthesized... lol.
      I dunno if we even have tornado sirens where I live (NE). Would they just use the civil defense sirens from the Cold War if there was a tornado warning?

      May 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. George West

    My wife tia and daughter brittany were on our way to a graduation dinner for my son Allan west at the great wall we were at the red light on rangeline and seventh headed south when on the radio we heard a tornado was on the ground at seventh and rangeline headed north east I turned left and put the peddle down on my 93 mustang gt the storm was moving east now at 45 mph so I kept it at 60 mph to stay safe but ahead of the storm it chased us all the way to Carthage where we took shelter at the local hospital we just got there in time.

    May 25, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      Good thinking, quick reflexes. Glad to hear you and family are OK. Hope your house was spared. I live in Springfield, your area is in our constant thoughts, prayers, and I am contributing financially to those who are giving aid, and there is a lot being done across our city and the country!

      May 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Another Chris

      That must've been a hell of an adrenaline rush... I hate watching even a regular old thunderstorm creep up behind me on the highway, much less an EF5 tornado. But... why didn't you just turn left or right and get out of the way so it could pass you...?

      May 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. YDB

    Haiti ! A lil help....? France....? Anyone....?

    May 25, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. seattlekatie

    How absolutely frightening, just the thought of a tornado. My heart goes out to all the people affected. I've never thought much about tornado's since I don't live in a tornado zone, but if it were me (especially after reading some of these people's stories) I would heed the sirens every time.

    As far as the animals are concerned, if you can get them fine. If not, leave them. Your life is more important, and this is coming from the biggest animal lover I know, me! Also, how many times have you read about people dying trying to "save" their dog, only to have the dog come through unscathed.

    May 25, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. Daniel

    I am surprised I haven't seen any national coverage of the tornado that hit Minneapolis. I know it wasn't nearly as destructive or deadly as the ones in the south, but it was strong enough to kill one and injure 30+. Normally when a tornado hits a city with a population over 300,000 it makes some news. The sad thing is it hit the neighborhood that is already pretty poor. Those who had little now have nothing.

    May 25, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Another Chris

      Look at Judgy McJudgerson here. How do you know they're all poor? From what I've seen of the images, these were solidly built single- or double-family structures that were demolished, not trailers. Normally I rip on the South as much as the next guy, but c'mon, they're not ALL poor trailer trash. Looks like most of these people owned houses, which these days, is NOT a sign of being poor.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Frank

    People of the United States of America,
    We should build MEGA Survival Shelters in each Town/County and State in this country that in times of Natural and Made Made disasters could save alot of people.Plus,this would create many jobs this country needs.Divert the Billions of dollars spent in vain going to Iraq,Afganistan and Pakistan programs this country really needs including these shelters.

    May 25, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Nc

      Really?? The "city" of Joplin proper is 50,000. 400,000 people reside within the suburbs and within 40 miles....270,000 people are in Joplin everyday, working.

      That would be some storm shelter....

      May 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Sounds kinda far fetched. How about give the Billions of saved dollars back to the taxpayers (original thought, I know).

      May 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Another Chris

      That's a pretty stupid idea. So... when the tornado siren sounds, everyone can rush to their car to drive to the "mega shelter" and get caught in a huge traffic jam, and ALL get killed? Genius. Pure genius.

      May 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chase

    The tornadoes are getting ridiculous. I live in tornado alley, so I understand what they've been through. I live in Jackson where that tornado destroyed Union University. I hope to never experience that again. Yet as I say this I am receiving word that tornadoes around my area are very likely today. Wish us luck.

    May 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MissWendy68

    This is not the correct forum to be dicussing belief in God and what religion is correct. This is a story of survivors. I sware some people post just to read what they typed

    May 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gordon atl

    God can't stop tornadoes...whoever said that God shouldn't let this happen is a baffoon. On a more serious note, I feel for everyone affected byt his natural disaster. Hope all of your lives stabilize as quickly as possible.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gordon atl

    @ Zach

    The military is off fighting stupid wars. So many problems in this country today but if it is something I put my faith in, it is America.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. hollydolly

    This is why I don't miss the midwest. I recently moved from but lived in Oklahoma city for 3 years, and in that time, we had 2 tornados in our immediate area. One clipped our home wrecking our car. Also after I replaced the wrecked car we had a massive hail storm with tennis ball sized hail wreck our new one, one mile south in nicholes hills, the tennis ball size turned into soft ball sized totaling my friends new car, her daughters, and basically every window, the whole roof, and most of the siding was damaged beyond repair... we said that's enough and am now on the eastern shore Maryland. Beautiful, mild, and with a very low risk of tornados and other severe weather.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
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