Mother Nature leaves Joplin devastated

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

People across the Ozarks woke up Monday morning to what is becoming a familiar sight across the midwest -- the massive devastation of their homes, businesses and communities.

Sunday evening brought severe thunderstorms and killing tornadoes to southwest Missouri, taking out St. John's Hospital in Joplin in a matter of minutes with a direct hit.

The hospital sustained heavy damage and unverified reports count four nurses among those who were killed at the facility. Approximately 180 patients were undergoing treatment at the hospital when the tornado hit.

Many of the hospital's patients have subsequently been transported to other medical care facilities in southwest Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and in Oklahoma.

"We are currently sitting on medical supplies waiting for word to transport," said Teresa Noel, with St. John's Medical Supply Division in Springfield. "They are for triage and primary care, and as soon as we get the word, they're on their way."

"Barry County received very little damage in this deadly storm," said David Compton, Barry County Emergency Management Director. "There were power outages, wind damage and reports of minor property damage.

"We have had no requests for assistance, and with crews working to restore services here, Cox Hospital administrators in Springfield have deployed numerous resources to assist St. John's in Joplin in the wake of this tragedy.

"Cox Hospital has deployed five strike teams to St. John's to assist with emergency services, and a sixth team is gearing to be deployed within a few hours," Compton continued.

So far, approximately 90 patients have been transferred from the St. John's Mercy Care system to Cox Hospital systems in southwest Missouri.

"We also have resources deployed to Wentworth and other areas of Jasper County that were hit by these storms," Compton said. "Those assets include firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement and public works personnel."

Along Rangeline Road in Joplin, businesses were splintered into rubble and traffic was diverted from the danger as emergency responders closed off roads leading to the impacted areas.

Joplin's Memorial Hall was transformed into a temporary shelter, allowing respite for displaced residents and serving as a triage area for those with minor injuries. The American Red Cross has set up operations at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

Cassville R-4 School District has also deployed crisis counselors and school nurses to offer counseling and assistance to displaced students and families in the Joplin area.

Richard Asbill, superintendent of Cassville R-4 District, said their school had received a call for assistance from a Joplin school.

"We sent a team of counselors and a school nurse to Missouri Southern today," Asbill said on Monday. "They will be working in four- and six-hour shifts, and we will reassess how we want to proceed in the morning when we have more information."

Asbill said with communications towers down, it is difficult for the crisis response team to communicate unless it is through text messaging.

"For some reason, calls are being dropped, but text messages can go through," Asbill said. "We are keeping in touch and will send people in to assist in the capacity of [Joplin's] greatest needs."

Cassville R-4 staffers assisting in the aftermath of the storm include Christy Preddy, Amy Cole, Shelly Sparkman, Patti Daniels, Gretchen Bussman and Elaine Boles.

Barry Electric Chief Executive Officer Bill Shiveley said Barry County fared better than others.

"We had about 400 customers without power," Shiveley said. "We had outages by Jenkins east of Highway 39 and at Washburn west of Highway NN. Power was also out at Roaring River State Park after a tree fell across some of the lines there."

Shiveley said crews worked until almost 4 a.m. to restore service to cooperative customers and resumed their duties again at about 7 a.m.

"We have about four houses in Butler Hollow that we couldn't get to last night because the water was too high," Shiveley said. He said he hoped to have those customers' power restored by late Monday afternoon.

"As of now," Shiveley said, "New-Mac, KAMO, Ozark Electric and Empire Electric all have several structures down," Shiveley said. "We have offered to send assistance if they need it."

Five special needs residents with Arc of the Ozarks have lost their homes and have been relocated to a home that had recently closed in Pierce City.

"These individuals lost everything," said John Foley, Arc of the Ozarks president and chief executive officer. "All employees and clients have been accounted for, but the loss of homes has opened up needs for numerous individuals."

Arc administrative staff has headed to impacted areas with bottled water and work gloves.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as needs," Foley said. "We are fortunate to have the homes, but the individuals lost everything."

Arc of the Ozarks supports people with disabilities throughout southwest Miss-ouri.

Cassville Chief of Police Dana Kammerlohr has deployed with her search and rescue canine Charka.

"She has been up there since Monday," said Detective Danny Boyd. "Officers Bill Watkins and James Smith have also deployed."

Boyd said other officers would rotate out as assigned to assist with the disaster.

Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly and five officers with that department have also been on scene since Monday. Administrative personnel indicated that officers would rotate out until the crisis abates somewhat.

"The National Weather Service is predicting several more days of rain and thunderstorms," Compton said. "I strongly urge area residents to prepare a 72-hour kit in the event we are subject to continuing severe weather events that may result in loss of power and services so they may have sufficient food, water and medications for themselves and their pets for up to three days."

Compton also credits the quick response to this latest disaster to a recent national level earthquake exercise hosted by the Barry County Office of Emergency Management.

"That exercise, based on the scenario of an earthquake taking place along the New Madrid fault, gave us a good idea of our available resources and has enhanced our ability to respond quickly to this large-scale disaster," Compton said.

With the death toll topping 115 so far, the May 22 tornado is now counted as one of the deadliest in state history.

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