‘Staff was courageous’ at tornado-struck hospital

Source: By Dave Kolpack, Associated Press • Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2019

“We had 10 minutes to wake up 102 residents, get them to the center of the building,” said David Flicek, the president and CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in South Dakota’s largest city. “And all are safe and sound.”

Although a significant tornado had not struck Sioux Falls for 25 years, the Avera Health System hospitals have kept up regular preparedness training. This work paid off when one of three EF-2 tornadoes pummeled the hospital campus.

The twister, with wind speeds of up to 130 mph, also roared over the system’s heart hospital after a man was brought in having a heart attack. Doctors and nurses continued operating on the man — and saved his life — as the storm blew on, according to the CEO of Avera Heart Hospital, Mick Gibbs.

Natasha Sundet, a 46-year-old nurse manager at the behavioral health center, arrived at the hospital shortly after the patients had been moved and said she hardly recognized the hospital and grounds.

“There are big chunks of metal hanging from the building, broken glass everywhere, tree limbs and trash, cars that have been picked up and moved with their windows blown out,” Sundet said. “When I walked into the building, there was water pouring in through the ceiling. I have never seen anything like it.”

Of the 102 patients who were moved, 39 were adolescents, Sundet said.

“We had children ranging from 4 to 17 who were huddled with their blankets and really just frightened and in shock,” she said.

The National Weather Service has determined that three EF-2 tornadoes struck the city overnight, lead meteorologist Todd Heitkamp said yesterday.

Dozens of buildings were damaged or destroyed, trees torn up and power lines downed. But no one was reported killed or even seriously injured in the devastation of the storm. Flicek said seven people suffered minor injuries from falling debris at the hospital campus, and another was hurt outside.

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) toured the damage in Sioux Falls yesterday afternoon, saying it was “miraculous” that no lives were lost.