Fire, EMS personnel save girl on breathing machine after tornado moved her home

First responders were able to access a girl with muscular dystrophy from inside the crumbled home


By Rebecca Santana
Associated Press

ARABI, La. — With the tendrils of a killer tornado bearing down on her family through the darkness, Dea Castellanos heard the rain and wind outside as she sat on her living room couch. Her daughter, who has muscular dystrophy, was in another room. The next thing Castellanos knew, the entire house began spinning.

Castellanos said she could feel the house whip through a full rotation, and she wound up in a bedroom.

A house that was moved off its foundation during the tornado Tuesday night sits in the street about 30 feet away in Arabi, La., on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.
A house that was moved off its foundation during the tornado Tuesday night sits in the street about 30 feet away in Arabi, La., on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Santana)

Tossed about 30 feet (9 meters) from its lot, the one-story house crashed down in the middle of a street, Castellanos said Wednesday through a translator during an interview with The Associated Press. The seconds became a blur.

Within moments, neighbors saw the girls' parents climbing out of the wreckage, calling frantically for help. Their daughter was still in her bedroom inside the rubble, calling for her mom.

"They were screaming. His wife was hysterical," neighbor Chuck Heirsch, who called 911, told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate when he saw his neighbors trying to get to their daughter. "They were already traumatized from taking that 'Wizard of Oz' ride."

Firefighters quickly arrived and carried the daughter out in a blanket. An ambulance took the girl to the hospital, where she was operated on overnight, Castellanos said. Describing the rescue, St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said the hospitalized girl was "doing fine."

Friends and relatives helped Castellanos clean out what belongings could be saved from the shattered home, like clothes and mementos, on Wednesday. One of the birds Castellanos kept as pets was standing on the floor, scattered debris all around.

Castellanos said she was thankful for everyone who had come to help with the cleanup, bringing food, garbage bags and work gloves.

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