Lots of people had tough jobs to do on the day of the tornado, and Philip Wilkinson, the plant operations manager at Mercy Hospital, was certainly no exception.
The wreckage piled around Mercy was so deep, Wilkinson had to park at Freeman Hospital to walk to his own work site. The closer he came, the clearer the extant of the destruction was. Even from a distance, it was clear the windows had been blow in, like the building had imploded in on itself. The parking lot was littered with junked cars and debris.
There is no easy list of priorities to sort out when everything is broken. But some things can’t be ignored. Philip headed into the boiler room, usually a clanging, noisy mechanical place, the sort of room that echoes with machinery. This time when he entered: silence, almost complete, except for an underlying rustling hiss.
He made his way through the boiler room, squeezing through narrow spaces made even skinnier by the tornado, checking pipes along the way, feeling towards the gas meter, which he eventally found: behind the rubble of what had once been a wall. And when Philip found the has meter, he found the source of the hiss: a high pressure natural gas main was leaking and needed to be brought under control immediately. So: back into the boiler room, to find a wrench big enough to close the main.
He’s remarkably nonchalant telling this story, but ask anyone else and they’ll tell you one of their biggest fears from the day of the tornado was the gas leak at Mercy Hospital igniting and destroying another part of town.
“The thought was in my head: I’m out of a job.” Nonetheless, “I spent the biggest part of the rest of the night securing everything, shutting valves off and the rest. It’s still gotta be done. You gotta deal with this.”