‘Unbelievable’: Tour nursing home damaged by tornado, learn how 160 survived the storm

CONNEAUTVILLE, Pa. -- A nursing home administrator is crediting timing and the quick action of her employees for saving nearly 160 residents when an EF2 tornado hit their facility Tuesday afternoon. 

The tornado touched down along state Route 198 causing heavy damage to the Rolling Fields Elder Care Community around 2:30 p.m. Two people were taken to the hospital as a precaution, but no one was seriously hurt.

"If it wouldn't have been for the quick response of the staff...this could have been a completely different story," said Tanya Bish, administrator. "We could have had multiple tragedies."

The National Weather Service said the twister had winds of up to 115 miles per hour and a path width of 50 yards. Further damage surveys were planned for Wednesday in the area to determine the length of the tornado.

Bish said when the storm rolled in Tuesday, workers started getting alerts on their phones and quickly jumped into action.

"We immediately started evacuating residents into the hallway," she said. "Our protocol is you close all the curtains and come out into the hallway, close all the doors and keep the elders safe."

Nearly 160 residents live at the facility, she said, and half of them aren't mobile. She said the only reason no one was seriously injured or killed was because the storm happened at the time staff changes shifts, so there was double staff on duty to help move people into the hallways.

A tour through the facility Wednesday showed just how close of a call it was for everyone. The bedrooms on one side of the building were all destroyed, with the roof collapsed on the beds. Bish said as the tornado was hitting, the residents were on the floor in the hallway just outside those rooms.

After the tornado, she said, workers realized there was also damage to a nearby independent living unit. They found the resident there hiding in the closet with her dog.

"We immediately evacuated her and got her safe," said Bish. "She had nothing but a scratch."

After the tornado, the residents were taken to a nearby middle school, but by Wednesday morning they'd all been split up among different area nursing homes and family members.

It's not clear when they'll be able to return to the facility.

“We had people show up with trailers, buses within two hours," said Bish. "Local bus companies, local landscaping showing up with trailers. I can’t even begin to thank everyone, it was unbelievable.”

Continuing coverage.