MOORE (AP) — Demolition crews began tearing down a 45-bed community hospital and two adjacent medical office buildings struck by a deadly tornado last month, but the hospital system’s CEO promised employees and residents Tuesday that they’ll rebuild.
About 200 employees, former patients and residents gathered outside the Moore Medical Center for a walking tour of the wreckage and a ceremony before a trackhoe operator began ripping the building apart.
“It’s like watching someone tear your house down,” said a tearful Tina Launer, who worked as a nurse at the facility for more than six years. “It’s so great to see everyone, but it reminds us that we won’t be together for a while.”
While employees paid a last visit to their former workplace, exposed pipes and duct work dangled from what remained of ceilings that were ripped from the building’s concrete structure. An office at the corner of one building had no walls around it, a potted plant still sitting on a battered desk.
Concrete, drywall, twisted metal and splintered wood was piled in heaps around the outside of the building. Pieces of timber and other debris remained embedded in the building’s stucco facade.
About 170 employees and 30 patients were inside the medical center on May 20 when the deadly twister started churning from the nearby community of Newcastle toward Moore. Patients, employees and an estimated 300 people from the community took shelter in the building’s cafeteria on the ground floor of the main building as the tornado raked across the Oklahoma City suburb.
No fatalities or serious injuries were reported among those sheltering at the hospital, a fact weather officials say is remarkable given the devastation that was wrought on the building, which took a direct hit from the tornado.
“I have to give most of the credit to the preparation and planning of the emergency staff at the facility,” said Rick Smith, a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “It certainly could have been a lot worse.”