Eighty-eight-year-old Pearl Sipult did what you’re supposed to do when you don’t have a basement and a tornado is headed your way.
Saturday night, she took pillows and quilts, got into a hallway of her Oaklawn home and closed the doors around her.
But it hit so fast, she didn’t have time to brace herself.
As she stood listening to her radio, a violent force picked her up and threw her as her house on Brookhaven blew apart. It was the only house destroyed around her, in the Oaklawn neighborhood just north of the heavily damaged Pinaire Mobile Home Park in the 5200 block of South Clifton.
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Pearl landed in a pile of debris. She lost her glasses, her dentures and her engagement ring.
“Everything was just coming in on top of me — the rain, hail and everything,” she recalled Tuesday, with purplish bruises still showing around her eyes, with “stitches on stitches” from all the cuts she suffered, from her white-haired head down.
She had had a hip replacement and uses a cane. In the darkness Saturday night, she held onto an old trunk and raised up as leaking natural gas hissed around her.
“And I kept hollering and hollering …
“Oh, Lord, please help me. Somebody, please help me.”
A man named Chris — she didn’t know him and still doesn’t know his last name — heard Pearl and had to work through debris to reach her. “He said, ‘I’ve got to get you out of here before this explodes,’ ” she said.
Chris carried her for two blocks.
“He was just a guardian angel,” she said.
“I could have never gotten out” without him. “I was scared.”
Chris doctored cuts on her leg, put ice on her head, put a blanket around her.
Emergency workers checked her, and someone said she wasn’t injured enough to be the first priority. It would be a while before an ambulance could take her out.
Chris and another man carried Pearl, in a wicker chair, for three to four more blocks. They had to lift her over a fence to put her in a truck and take her to Via Christi Hospital on Harry, where the truck driver stayed with her and she remained for hours, receiving stitches and undergoing a bone scan. She had some deep cuts, but she didn’t suffer a single broken bone.
As she rested at a relative’s home Tuesday, she said, “Thank God. He takes care of me. What would we do a day without him?”
After the tornado hit Saturday night, word spread to her relatives. Her younger brother, Archie Nichols, broke into tears Tuesday as he recalled getting a call from a relative saying that Pearl was on her way to the hospital.
She had been living alone in the Oaklawn home since September. Her husband, Carl Sipult, died in 1997. He was a minister, and the couple had served together in a prison ministry.
For now, she’s wearing donated clothes. Her relatives managed to salvage some of her things, but so much is gone. Her bathtub ended up in a neighbor’s yard. A nephew has offered her a furnished home.
She has two great-great-grandchildren on the way. Her granddaughter told her, “You just survived for these babies.”
“Well, it wasn’t a pleasant thing,” she said of her close call.
“But, thank God, you can always survive a lot of things.”