The miracle in the rubble: Rescuers recount helping save baby during May 3, 1999 tornado

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"It literally looked like a trash heap that you would see in the junk yard. And, they were digging and digging, and they could hear people crying."

That’s just one of the memories EMSA Paramedic Jim Cochrane remembers from May 3, 1999 when he drove up on the scene of an apartment complex obliterated at the intersection of SW 119th and Western.

Oklahoma City Police Master Sergeant Kevin Sutherland arrived on the same scene but was confronted by a different obstacle.

“There are power lines that are down in the street, we didn't know if they were live,” Sutherland said.

While driving to the same intersection, Battalion Fire Chief Cris Copeland saw the monster tornado dead ahead of them.

“I told Max, the guy driving me, I said ‘You need to slow down.’ He said ‘Why?’ I said ‘We're going to be in it if you don't,’” Copeland said.

All three rescuers were to play a major role in an incredible rescue that day.

Sutherland, while looking for survivors in the devastation of the apartment building, heard something.

“So, we're pulling stuff off, and we're breaking through sheet rock,” Sutherland said, “and I heard a voice calling out for help under the rubble.”

"They told me, they said ‘There's somebody in there,’" Copeland said. “The top is gone, and what you're walking on is the second floor.”

So, Copeland got a chainsaw and carefully cut a hole in the ply-board from where they heard the cry. When the hole was cut, they looked inside and saw four people had survived the storm in a bathtub/shower area.

“A great-grandmother, a grandmother, a daughter and an infant child, just a few days old. The fiberglass just wrapped around them. If they had been anywhere else in that house, they’d been dead," Copeland said.

Sutherland quickly worked to get the baby out of the debris.

"I was so concentrated on keeping it close to me, so it wouldn't get hung on a nail or broken board or something, just trying to get it out,” Sutherland said.

When Sutherland handed the baby up and out of the rubble, Cochrane from EMSA took over the rescue.

"I remember looking up and seeing a baby, this tiny, tiny baby pop out of the building and somebody said get EMSA, grabbed me and put the baby in my hand," Cochrane said. "When I was holding the baby, it seemed like she was digging farther and farther up underneath my jacket."

When the dazed mother was brought out, she called for her child. The rescuers assured her the baby was fine.

It was an incredible rescue through teamwork and maybe something more.

"I can’t totally comprehend God,” Copeland said, “but I think He puts us in places we need to be, for His service and our benefit."

Sutherland’s takeaway from the rescue - the God-given power of a mother’s love.

"Thank your mother for getting you inside that tub. Mothers will sacrifice anything for their children,” Sutherland said.

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