Joplin, MO Tornado, May 2011

The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO
May 22, 2011
Gallery: Storm descends on Joplin
Local authorities fear death toll could eclipse 100

Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — A tornado, which at its zenith was three-quarters of a mile wide, roared across the heart of Joplin at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds.

The coroners of Newton and Jasper counties were setting up a temporary morgue Sunday night in Joplin. The death toll at 11 p.m. Sunday was 11 people. That number, the coroners said, was expected to grow to more than 100.

Teams with body bags were being dispatched to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Academy Sports & Outdoors, Sonic and other businesses between 15th and 20th streets along Range Line Road, one of the hardest hit areas in the city.


Update: Freeman has already treated close to 500 people, only taking critically injured

Freeman Health System is only taking critically injured patients at this point, according to Christen Stark, hospital spokesperson. Those with lesser injuries are being asked to go to other area hospitals or other local clinics.

At last count, 467 tornado-related injuries had been treated by Freeman staff, nine of who have died as of 4:30 a.m.


Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges, in a telephone interview Sunday night, said bodies were being recovered from places where people attempted to seek shelter from the storm but were crushed by falling roofs.

Bridges said family members were calling to find out whether loved ones were among the dead. In one instance, a man was identified by a cross that had been tattooed on his arm.

Keith Stammer, emergency management director for Joplin and Jasper County, said whole apartment complexes were blown away. Also hit were nursing homes.

C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin’s schools, said Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center and Irving Elementary School were destroyed. The roofs were blown off East Middle School and Cecil Floyd Elementary.

St. John’s Regional Medical Center took a direct hit from the tornado. Several patients in that hospital were transferred to Freeman Hospital West, which was overwhelmed by injured people. People were being delivered in pickup trucks, lying on doors and pieces of plywood that served as makeshift stretchers. Also overwhelmed was an emergency medical center that was set up at Memorial Hall.

Stammer said the tornado traveled from the west side of the city to the southeast. The damage zone stretched from about 26th Street and Schifferdecker Avenue to 20th Street and Prosperity Road.

The tornado was a half-mile wide when it hit Joplin. It grew to a width of three-quarters of a mile wide before dissipating to a width of a half-mile.

Stammer said the tornado was observed on radar by the National Weather Service station at Springfield. The sirens were sounded at 5:11 p.m. The lead time before the tornado hit was about 20 minutes.

Mike Griffith, a meteorologist with the weather service station, said a supercell thunderstorm intensified rapidly west of Joplin in Cherokee County, Kan.

“It was clear that a hook echo was forming and that a large tornado was developing,” he said. “We picked up the debris ball here on our radar. When you see that, it signifies that major damage is going on.”

Griffith said the tornado that struck Joplin was a right-turning tornado, the same type of tornado that struck Picher, Okla., and Newton County on May 10, 2008.

“Supercells often produce right-turning tornadoes, and when they do they are bigger tornadoes,” he said. “This is a high-end tornado. It could be an EF4, but that is only a guess at this point.”

The storm traveled across northern Newton County and into Lawrence County. Numerous tractor-trailer rigs were blown off Interstate 44.

Many major streets were impassable because of downed trees and utility poles. Emergency vehicles raced across the city, escorting injured residents to hospitals.

After the storm passed, Roy Holden stood in his front yard at 3110 W. 26th St., next to a utility pole that had blown over and blocked the street.

“We were lucky, very lucky,” Holden said. “It’s a lot worse just south of here. We have some tree limbs down and windows broken. I’m finding all kinds of things in my yard that’s not mine.

Just east of Holden’s house, Tom Rogers was not so lucky. He walked along 26th Street with his daughter to view the storm damage.

“Our house is gone,” he said. “It’s just gone. We heard the tornado sirens for the second time. All of a sudden, everything came crashing down on us. We pulled our heads up and there was nothing. It was gone.”


Billowing smoke and a likely natural gas leak were challenges confronting rescuers and emergency personnel trying to save lives and assist people trapped by the devastation of the tornado that leveled whole neighborhoods in south Joplin.

St. John’s Regional Medical Center was directly in the path of the powerful tornado.

An elderly man and woman were making their way from the wreckage of the hospital. Wrecked cars were piled on top of each other, windows were blown out, and streets were blocked by debris and by survivors trying to flee.

Across the street, a young man crawled out of the wreckage of his home at 26th Street and Empire Avenue, grateful just to be alive.

“I asked God to get me through this, and he did,” he said as he searched amid the ruins for neighbors and friends.

Joplin resident Sara Ferguson, reached by phone, said she was in the 32nd Street area after the storm passed through. She said side streets were impassable because of downed power lines. The area between Maiden Lane and Jackson Avenue in that part of town was “just devastating to see,” she said.

“The houses are all gone. The medical buildings are gone,” she said. “(St. John’s hospital’s) windows have all been blown out. It was horrible. I couldn’t even take pictures on my phone. I was crying.”

A hospital official at Freeman Health System said critical patients were being treated there, while others were being taken to other area hospitals.

St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield was beginning to receive patients from the Joplin hospital by 10 p.m. and was “fully expecting more,” said spokeswoman Cora Scott.

She said the Springfield hospital had sent ambulances, first response personnel, and medical and pharmaceutical supplies to Joplin.


The roof of the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 15th Street and Range Line collapsed during the devastating tornado.

Justin Schlesselman, a security officer at the Wal-Mart store, was near the back of the store when he heard the wind roar and felt the roof shake.

“All of a sudden there was a big whoosh, and the ceiling started falling,” he said.

Schlesselman said he was knocked to ground by debris from the ceiling and, along with a number of other employees, was buried under the rubble for more than 20 minutes.

“People were freaking out and screaming for help,” he said. “I just hollered and told everybody to stay calm and that help was on the way.”

Schlesselman said other store employees and customers eventually were able to pick the debris off those who had been trapped, and they all made their way out of the back of the collapsed building.

“It was a normal Sunday,” he said. “There were probably about 150 people in the store. I don’t know how many got out. I just know that everyone in our area did. One guy’s foot was trapped by a beam, but we were able to lift it off his leg.”

Schlesselman was living in Carl Junction in 2003 when a tornado ripped through the town. The house he was living in was damaged but not destroyed.

“We lost some stuff, but we were OK,” he said. “I was afraid for my life in this one.”

Joe Cabalero and Joe Barbosa were working at the Home Depot at 3110 E. 20th St. when the roof of that building collapsed. Cabalero said that when he heard the tornado siren, he and other employees began herding everyone in the store to the rear of the building.

“We had about a three-minute window before the roof went,” Cabalero said. “We heard a big rumble, and that was it.”

Barbosa said that once the storm passed, employees began checking the parking lot for victims. He said the only people they found in a car were a man, a woman and a child near the front of the parking lot.

“We were able to get the man and the girl out, but the woman’s arm was pinned,” he said. “They (emergency personal) were able to get her out.”

Cabalero said there were probably 16 to 20 customers in the store when the storm hit. To his knowledge, all of the customers and all of the store employees made it out of the building safely, he said.

This was not Cabalero’s first experience with natural disaster. He said he was living near New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005.

“We were in a three-story house,” he said. “The water covered up the first two stories, and we were stuck on the third floor for two days.”


The Joplin School District posted a notice on its Facebook page: “No school will be held on any Joplin school campus on Monday. Staff, do not report unless requested. Several district facilities have sustained substantial damage and we are assessing the situation.”

The district said Facebook will be its only method of communication for the immediate future.

Huff, the superintendent, said Cecil Floyd Elementary and East Middle School both sustained heavy damage, including lost roofs and structural damage. Irving Elementary, Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center were considered destroyed. Huff also said he had heard reports of severe damage to Duquesne Elementary, and he assumed Kelsey Norman Elementary had been damaged because of its proximity to Joplin High School, though he couldn’t confirm it.

“But Irving, I’ve had a visual confirmation. It’s been destroyed.” he said.


Red Cross volunteers have set up a shelter for those who have lost their homes in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at Missouri Southern State University .

Iris Elliott, a health services volunteer and nurse, said the Red Cross was providing shelter for those in need but was not in a position to provide any medical care beyond basic first aid.

“We’ve got a lot of people here already,” she said Sunday night.

The Red Cross is not receiving volunteers at the shelter, but Elliott said those interested in providing assistance should contact the Joplin Red Cross office at 417-624-4411.

Donald Hutchison and his wife, Naomi, were among those seeking help at Memorial Hall on Sunday night. Donald Hutchison’s T-shirt was splattered with blood from a sliced thumb.

“We live near Dillons (at the Hampshire Terrace Apartments),” he said. “We got under a stairway as far as we could go. It took our whole apartment. It blew out our front door where we were at, but it didn’t suck us out. God was with us. After 44 years of marriage, we lost everything. The car, everything. We’re just happy to be alive.”

John Eadons had walked more than five blocks through the middle of Joplin before hitching a ride on the back of a pickup truck to reach Memorial Hall.

“This is just surreal to me,” said Eadons. “It’s clean (with lights) here; there’s no devastation.”

Robin Wiley, a St. John’s spokeswoman who was on the scene at Memorial Hall, said the injured were “coming in by the dozens.”

“We’re running out of supplies,” she said.

A short time later, the injured were asked to report to McAuley Catholic High School instead of Memorial Hall because of space and supply limitations.

Dozens of people waited in the parking lot of McAuley Catholic at 10th Street and Pearl Avenue, while hundreds more made their way inside to seek shelter and medical attention.

Volunteers helped the injured down the north hall of the building in walkers, wheelchairs and even rolling office chairs. Others directed the uninjured to a shelter in the south gymnasium.

A volunteer taking names of the injured said the building was “overflowing” with medical aid workers, nurses and doctors who had come to help.


The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO
May 23, 2011
More than 1,000 people suffer injuries
Staff Writer
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — More than 1,000 people have been treated for injuries stemming from the tornado that struck Joplin at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Freeman Health System in Joplin treated 467 people in the hours immediately after the tornado struck.

More than 396 people sought treatment for injuries Sunday night at hospitals outside of Joplin. That was continuing on Monday.

One of the busiest hospitals was Integris Regional Medical Center at Miami, Okla., where 91 people were treated, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Of those, 29 were admitted.

Via Christi Medical Center at Pittsburg, Kan., received 76 people who were either injured or transferred from a Joplin hospital.

Another busy area hospital was McCune-Brooks Regional Medical Center at Carthage where officials worked well into the early morning hours treating injured people. A hospital spokeswoman could not be reached for comment as to the exact number who were treated.

Thirty-nine people were treated at Freeman Neosho Hospital.

Barton County Memorial Hospital at Lamar received 23 injured people. Seven people were admitted there.

Five people drove themselves to Nevada Regional Medical Center where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

Five people sought treatment at Cox Monett Hospital. Of those, three were admitted. A hospital spokeswoman said they were expecting to see more patients today from Joplin.

At Springfield, 90 people were treated at Cox Medical Center. Some of them were admitted, a hospital spokesman said. About 60 people were treated at St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield in the hours immediately after the tornado, but an updated count on Monday was not immediately available from a hospital spokesman.

At Tulsa, Okla., six people were admitted at St. Francis Hospital and two were admitted at St. John Medical Center.


Eighty-nine people are reported dead from a tornado Sunday afternoon, but authorities expect the death toll to continue to climb.

City Manager Mark Rohr said this morning that a tornado cut a path six miles long and a half mile wide through the town.

A door-to-door search is underway.


The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO
June 1, 2011
Governor: Number missing now zero
By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — A week ago today, the list of missing persons from the May 22 tornado stood at 232.

In a news conference Wednesday in Joplin, Gov. Jay Nixon said: “I can now report to you that the number of unaccounted-for individuals is now zero. The official number of deceased from the tornado now stands at 134.”

The number includes the identification of all partial remains, according to Maj. Bret Johnson, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The temporary morgue that held the dead is preparing to close.


But it is likely that the death toll will go higher. Johnson on Wednesday said there is a possibility that two tornado-related deaths in local hospitals are not yet reflected on the list of the deceased.

In addition, a body was recovered Tuesday from the debris field, signaling that the recovery efforts after six sweeps may yield more remains as the removal of debris gets under way.

Nixon said: “Last week, I charged the Highway Patrol with the task of reducing the list of names of persons unaccounted for from the tornado. I said we would account for every name on that list.

“I am extremely proud of the professionalism and dedication of the Highway Patrol in carrying out this difficult task. It required working 24 hours a day, every day. And all too often, it meant bringing difficult news to families in this area and in this region.”

On May 25, Nixon ordered the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the patrol to assume responsibility for locating individuals for whom there had not been an accounting. After initial reports that the number of unaccounted-for individuals could be more than 1,300, the patrol focused the search on those for whom an official missing-person report had been filed.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, a total of 268 missing-person reports had been filed in the aftermath of the tornado. That number includes three reports that were filed as late as Tuesday afternoon.

The patrol has accounted for 144 individuals who were located, and 124 who were confirmed as deceased and their next of kin notified.

In addition to the 124 who were confirmed as deceased at the morgue, seven individuals were confirmed as deceased but were transported to funeral homes immediately after the tornado. Three people have died in hospitals since the storm.

In a separate news conference Wednesday, City Manager Mark Rohr told the residents of Joplin: “You are doing a great job.”

He commended them for the speed at which they have registered for temporary housing assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. So far, 7,160 have registered. To register, people may call 800-621-FEMA.

Between 500 and 800 households have been registering per day in recent days. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, 554 households had registered in the previous 24 hours. The steady rate of registration suggests that determining how much housing will be needed is still a fluid situation, a FEMA spokesman said.

Inspectors are on the ground assessing the registrants’ storm damage. FEMA is approving financial assistance for housing, such as rental assistance, home repair and replacement money, and financial assistance for other essential disaster-related needs.


The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO
June 13, 2011
Death toll officially stands at 153
By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — The death toll from the May 22 tornado stands officially at 153, according to a news release issued Monday by the city of Joplin on behalf of the Missouri Department of Public Safety and Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel.

Two names, Cheryl Rantz, 62, of Carl Junction, and Michael Dennis, 52, of Galena, Kan., have been added to the list since Friday, when the list held 151 names.

On Friday, the Globe had listed the count at 153, including the deaths of two women whose names were not on the city’s list at that time but whose obituaries cited the tornado as the cause of death. One of those women was Rantz. The other woman was listed under both her married name, Mary McKeel, and her former name, Mary Lovell.

The list includes Jefferson Taylor, 31, a Kansas City-area police officer who died earlier this month of lightning-related injuries he suffered while assisting with search-and-rescue efforts after the tornado.

Rantz died May 30 at Cox Medical Center South in Springfield. Dennis died late Friday night at St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield. He was transferred to Springfield from St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, where he had been a patient on the seventh floor when the tornado struck.

A family member said Dennis died of an infection unrelated to the fungal infections that have stricken other critically injured survivors of the tornado.

Eleven people with storm-related injuries are being treated in local and area hospitals, officials said. Five of them are at Freeman Hospital West, where one of them is listed as being in critical condition. Three are at St. John’s in Springfield. They are listed as being in serious but stable condition.

Two are being treated at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, Kan. They are listed as being in good condition. One person, who is in good condition, is being treated at St. John’s Maude Norton Memorial Hospital in Columbus, Kan.


Jacqueline Lapine, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the number of suspected deep skin fungal infections in people who were injured in the Joplin tornado had increased from eight on Friday to nine on Monday.

All of the patients suffered trauma from the tornado with multiple injuries and secondary wound infections, she said. Samples from all nine patients are being transmitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing and confirmation.

Dr. Benjamin Park, with the CDC, on Monday described the fungal infections that have occurred in Joplin as “a very rare event. It is extremely rare.”

Park said zygomycosis is not an infection that requires official notification to state or federal health agencies. Because of that, the CDC does not have solid information about its frequency. But it has a relatively high fatality rate, he said.

There were no reports of the infection after the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April, he said.

Park said anyone who was injured in the tornado who has skin lesions or wounds that aren’t healing should seek medical attention.

Chappel, the coroner for Jasper County, said at least three tornado victims who have died had fungal infections. It is not clear if the fungus caused the deaths or was a contributing factor, he said.

Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, on Monday said no cases of the fungus have been reported among workers in the damage zone.

Lapine, in a prepared statement, said deep skin fungal infection does not spread from human to human. The nine suspected cases all occurred in people who suffered trauma from the tornado with secondary wound infections. No cases have been attributed to air, food or water.

STAFF WRITER EMILY YOUNKER contributed to this report.


MORE THAN 1,150 PEOPLE sought immediate treatment for injuries at local and area hospitals in the hours after the tornado struck.


The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO
July 28, 2011
Death toll rises to 160
By Debby Woodin

JOPLIN, Mo. — Another person has been listed as a victim of the May 22 tornado, bringing the official death toll to 160.

That victim is J.T. Strickland, 85, 2125 S. Virginia Ave. Strickland was a motel manager and Korean War veteran who died July 8 at a Monett nursing home of injuries he suffered in the tornado, according to Simpson Funeral Home, Webb City.

His funeral was held July 17 at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Joplin. The home he shared with his wife, Betty, was destroyed by the storm.

The ruling by Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel to add Strickland to the list of fatalities was among several announcements made Thursday at a city news conference.

City Manager Mark Rohr said residents who want to rebuild in any area of the tornado zone are now free to do so. A hold on residential building permits that was adopted June 20 by the City Council to accommodate expedited debris removal was lifted throughout the city on Thursday.

The council had authorized a 60-day hold. Rohr said the hold had been in effect 38 days. He said that by allowing residential reconstruction to resume without further restriction, city officials had upheld their pledge to lift the hold as soon as possible.

The amount of debris removed by government contractors stood at 80 percent on Thursday, “which I think is outstanding,” Rohr said. About 300 lots remain to be cleared, he said.

Rohr also encouraged residents who can afford to move on to demolition of their damaged homes or who have insurance to cover the cost of demolition to proceed. He said the city would announce details of a demolition phase of the recovery, including any assistance available for it, next week.

Demolition permits are required, but there is no fee for them through the end of the year.

Some resources could be available to residents who need assistance with rebuilding, and that information will be available later, Rohr said. He said the city has made some requests for funding to help with that.

“We hope to have a presentation to the public on those tools in the not-too-distant future,” Rohr said.

Owners of commercial properties are encouraged to meet an Aug. 8 deadline for debris removal, Rohr said. He asked that those who cannot do so for any reason notify the city of their status by dialing 624-0820, ext. 539. He said the city may have information that could help business property owners. If a contract exists, the city could make allowances for later removal, Rohr said.

The debris and demolition phases will include cutting trees that arborists say will not survive damage sustained from the tornado. Rohr said the city is assembling information about tree donations that will be made to residents and to the city, and is developing a plan for replanting efforts. More information about that will be available later, he said.

Clearing efforts have been aided by volunteers. So far, 69,088 registered volunteers have logged 337,627 hours in the cleanup work.

A total of 3,391 families are receiving rental assistance, according to information supplied to the city by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rohr said.

Comments made by residents at an open house July 12 on ideas for Joplin’s rebuilding have been assembled into a 47-page booklet. The booklets will be made available, and residents can access them now on the websites, and

Another public session is planned for reviewing the ideas suggested at the open house and to solicit more public input on them. That session is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 16.

Permit pickup:

DEMOLITION PERMITS are available at the Public Works Department on the fourth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.

28 Dec, 2015 UPDATE: