MOORE, Okla. - May 20, 2013 - Sandi Jones was going to work as a clinic supervisor at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Their clinic was located in a strip mall, sandwiched between the post office and bowling alley, just southeast of the Moore Medical Center. Their office had only been in that location for a year.
On her way into work, Jones noticed something peculiar. Crickets covered the entire building. She had to brush them off in order to get in the door. She thought it was odd at the time, but now knows it was mother nature signaling something bad was on the way.
Only a few hours later, a bubbling cumulonimbus cloud turned into a monster supercell.
A small elephant trunk grew into a large barrel tornado, hitting Newcastle and heading straight for Moore.
At the heart clinic, Jones was running out of time and out of options.
"There’s not a lot I can do at this point. We can’t send people over here and people over here and expect them to get there safely,” she said.
With no storm shelter, employees and patients were forced to take shelter in a small break room.
"When I opened the door and I seen 28 eyes looking at me and the weather guy says – you’re above ground, you’re going to die. I, I didn’t know what to do," said Jones.
She briefly talked to her daughter on the phone, knowing she may not make it out alive.
"I had said my goodbyes, I had told my family that was it," she said.
Firefighter Chad Cannon was at Station One of the Moore Fire Department. They ran a call and could see the tornado off in the distance.
"Once we got here, we were standing out front and it was big time, you could totally see it, 100 percent," he said.
North of town, Terry Morrison and his crew were watching the tornado at Station Two when they ran on a heart attack call. He knew the tornado was approaching and asked a police officer on the scene how far away the tornado was.
"And I'll never forget, he said, 'It's right at the turnpike,' and I was like, 'How far is that?' And I mean, I know where the turnpike is at and he's like, 'We think 10 minutes,'" Morrison said.
His crew returned to Station Two just in time to the see the city he knew so well be slammed by an EF-5 tornado.
"We're watching the tornado go through town, south of us, and the ground was rumbling underneath us. And we were like, 'Do you feel that?' And he was like, 'Yeah.' And we could see the debris started picking up because it was just south of us, we had a clear shot," he said.
In that moment, Morrison recognized the direness of the situation.
"I was like, 'People are dying right now.' And he said, 'I know.' And we were just shocked," said Morrison.
Back at the heart clinic, Jones braced for impact.
"While I was shutting the doors, the last thing I did was check my computer and our patient list was up and I just glanced on that and looked at every name on that. Went back, shut the doors, counted everybody in the room twice, got my chair and I sat down and that was it," she said.
Winds over 200 mph slammed the heart clinic.
Jones described what it was like when the tornado moved over them.
"It wasn’t like a train, it was more like a jet engine over your head, I couldn’t hear myself scream," she said.
Post-storm analysis revealed the tornado looped over the 7-Eleven before jogging southeast for a direct hit of the Moore Medical Center and the heart clinic.
“I didn’t realize how big this was when it all came down," she said.
Suddenly, one of the big pillars hit the building and Jones couldn't move.
Immediately after the tornado passed, the Moore Fire Department sprung into action. Cannon and his crew started driving north when he saw the immense destruction.
"Looking straight north on Telephone Road from 19th Street, I could just tell, power lines had fallen, power poles were broke, that when we started seeing a lot of destruction," he said.
At Station Two, Morrison and his crew dropped south and couldn't even recognize the town he grew up in.
"I knew what the post office was because of all the mail trucks laying there. I knew what the hospital was because it was still fairly recognizable, I mean it's right on the corner there. Everything else was just gone. It was just wiped out," he said.
He noticed a group of people on a pile of rubble, waving their hands in the air.
"So I ran up there and was like, 'So what do you have?' And they said, 'There's about 17 or 18 people trapped underneath this building right now.' And it just looked like a pile of rock," he said. He feared the worst, thinking, "I was looking at this building going, how could anybody live through this?"
Morrison described the scene of the rescue saying, "if you just take everything and put it in a blender and then throw it all together, I mean, there was little rabbit holes, I kind of classify as, you can work your way through."
The firefighters guided people through a tight, concrete maze.
"A lot of them just needed help. A lot of them needed direction, hey, just follow me. This way, crawl through this," he said.
For hours, one-by-one, 14 people miraculously climbed out alive. Three people were still missing. Suddenly, Morrison heard a sound coming from the rubble.
"I remember looking at Chad and Chance and I said, 'I think there might be somebody underneath us,'" Morrison told News 4.
One of the people screaming was Jones.
Morrison relieved another firefighter and started crawling through the rubble. Cannon followed behind. Morrison used hand tools to chisel through the rock and inch his way closer to victims. Finally, he reached a victim and tried to calm her down.
He chuckled recalling, "she laid on her belly and crawled past me and I can remember her kicking me in the face getting past me and I was like, man that hurt."
Firefighters pulled Jones' feet first out of the rubble. When she came out, she could barely recognize her surroundings. She first noticed the bank vault from the bank next door.
Shortly after being rescued, she heard a familiar voice.
Jones' daughter, a Moore resident, walked to the heart clinic in search of her mom.
"Probably the biggest, hardest hug I’ve ever gotten from my daughter right then," said Jones.
Cannon and Morrison continued to navigate through the debris - 17 people were rescued from that pile of rubble.
Five years later, Jones is thankful to be alive.
I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t get hurt, I had one bruise," she said.
Jones couldn't believe that everyone survived saying, "we look at the pictures now and still, I don’t know how we got out, I really don’t, because we shouldn’t have."
Today, the heart clinic is an empty field. While the debris is gone, the emotional aftermath hasn't been cleared.
"I have a lot of survivor guilt, so it’s just, I need to thank them, I really do. For me. I know that’s their job," she said.
So, Jones headed to Station Four to surprise her rescuers.
Morrison and Cannon thought News 4 was there doing a follow-up interview.
Jones introduced herself and showed pictures from that day.
Firefighters are accustomed to surprises, but it's usually not a good thing.
"I don’t know if I told you guys that day, but I appreciate everything you guys did to keep everybody safe and get everybody out. You don’t even know, cause I had said my goodbyes. I knew we weren’t coming out," Jones told Cannon and Morrison.
A reunion - five years in the making.
She hugged both firefighters.
And, this is just one thank you from one person.
Every day we are thankful for our first responders and every day heroes.