One of the most dramatic scenes from Wednesday night’s fertilizer plant explosion was the damage to a nursing home called West Rest Haven, just a couple of streets over from the plant.
Courtney Collins has more on the heroic actions of quick thinking employees.
Lola Millhollin tried to force down some breakfast at the Best Western off I-35, Thursday morning, still wearing her scrubs and West Rest Haven nametag.
When the fire sparked at the plant Wednesday night, nursing home staffers had already decided to evacuate residents. They were in the middle of getting people out of bed when everything changed.
“All of the sudden it just blew,” Millhollin said. “You could feel the force of the blast, it blew out the windows the ceiling came down, lights came down, the insulation came down, it covered the residents; there was debris all over.”
Millhollin instinctively dove over the nearest residents and got smacked on the head as a result. She wasn’t seriously injured, so she jumped up to help.
“I was checking around once it kind of settled a little bit, if it ever settled and breathing in all this crap and saw some of the other residents and they were covered so I went over and uncovered the insulation off them and started moving debris so we could get the residents out,” she said.
Ninety-year-old Johnnie Sinkule was one of those residents. He was sound asleep when the explosion blasted his room apart. But he escaped with just cuts and bruises.
“The roof came down, I was sleeping, I was covered up and I had this arm out on top of the covers,” Sinkule said. “There ain’t nothing left of the building, it’s destroyed. I didn’t evaluate all of it, but what I’ve seen of it, it’s all gone. It’s all gone.”
The quick thinking nursing home workers got Sinkule out fast, but phone lines were down, so his daughter Susan Miklis had no idea he was safe.
“He had heard from one of the relatives that the nursing home had been leveled,” Miklis said. “So at that point, we assumed Dad was gone, and you know, you can’t put into words what that feels like.”
She was overjoyed to learn that her father had escaped uninjured. But still, her heart is breaking.
“The whole ordeal is tragic. It shouldn’t have happened, I don’t know why it happened, but it did,” Miklis said. “And a lot of people did lose lives; I know there are a number of fire fighters that lost their lives.”
And right now, lost lives and shattered homes are top of mind for most residents of West. A 50 unit apartment complex was wrecked and up to 75 homes were damaged. Nurses’ aide Lola Millhollin and her husband were renting a place three football fields away from the explosion. There’s not much house left.
“It’s, it’s toast. The walls kind of caved in and the doors have been blown off,” she said.
Right now, Millhollin has no place to live and no job to return to. But in the face of all that, she’s still found a reason to be grateful.
“But through this whole ordeal, I felt God being there with us. It could have so much worse, with 130 residents in that place that we got them out. Yeah, some of them had injuries, but you know, hey, injuries we can all live with,” Millhollin said. “Stuff can be replaced, people can’t.”