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Wednesday May 25, 2011 - Continuous tornado coverage - KOAM TV 7

Wednesday May 25

Posted: Updated: May 25, 2011 7:55 PM CDT

Summary

Hospital officials say they will rebuild.  14,000 are still without electricity, but around 10,000 are in the disaster area.

K-9 units search the area as authorities warn tornado victims about scam artists.

And washing clothes, charging cell phones and computers becomes one less thing victims have to worry about.

9:14am update (includes 1:02pm update)

by Lisa Olliges

Today leaders from Mercy Health System held a news conference to talk about the future of St. John's Regional Medical Center.

Officials say they have structural engineers examining the integrity of the building dealt a severe blow by the tornado.  They say there is damage everywhere.

Five people died at the hospital when the tornado hit but the chief physician who spoke couldn't say how they were killed.

Mercy has around 2,800 employees who work in the Joplin area - not just at St. John's - and they are unable to account for 4 employees at this time.

Officials say staff made patients their first priority getting them to safety.

They also took any medical equipment not tied or bolted down to set up a mobile hospital at Memorial Hall, where they will stay for up to two weeks until a mobile hospital makes it here from Branson.

But the main message today - St. John's was established by the Sisters of Mercy and is here for the long haul.  They say they are going to rebuild - perhaps not exactly in the same place - but they will rebuild.

"They started the hospital in 1896 so for more than a century Mercy Health Care has been here and they faced some challenges over that century," Mercy Health System CEO Lynn Britton says.  "I bet this will go down in the record books, but we will not let this challenge overcome us.  We will rebuild healthcare in the Joplin community and we will do it in partnership with all of the citizens of Joplin."

St. John's officials have set up at Holiday Inn.  They have a command center there for employees to check in, get financial support now, and determine their needs for the future.

Mercy says they are intent on keeping their medical professionals in this community.  They will find jobs for workers at their other medical facilities in this area, or even lease them to other hospitals and clinics now facing overloads from the tornado.

Britton says he has been "awed and inspired" since he got to the site Monday morning at how the community is rallying around the recovery since Sunday's tornado.

Britton says, fortunately, about three weeks ago St. John's went to digital records - otherwise - those records would have been lost.

Britton says they are planning an event to honor all the heroes in the health field who've come to the aid of citizens many of them also victims of the tornado, including those who are not Mercy employees.

12:36pm update

The tragedy in Joplin is being felt across the nation, even on the red carpet.  Springfield, Missouri native Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were in Los Angeles yesterday for the premiere of "Tree of Life" but Pitt said his mind was with the tornado victims here in Joplin.

"I spent a lot of time in Joplin," Pitt said.  "My grandparents are from there and it's about 50, 60 miles from where I grew up, so we're looking into it now.  My thoughts are certainly with them.  Of course a lot will be coming out in the next day, next few days and they have a big mountain ahead of them.  I wish them the best."

12:46pm update

More violent storms moved through the area late last night.  In Joplin, where at least 122 people were killed Sunday night, the sirens sounded once again.

The death toll from the EF-5 still officially stands at 122 - 8,000 homes and/or apartments are damaged and more than 1,000 structures are destroyed.

A unknown number of local residents are still missing.

The Joplin Police Department has a curfew in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.  However, permits are no longer required to come and go from the disaster area.

Officials warn that some roads are still blocked due to rescue efforts that are underway or electrical workers working to restore power.

1:39pm update

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Rescue and recovery work in Joplin was shadowed by uncertainty Wednesday as crews still hoping to find survivors combed areas that had already been searched several times and engineers entered the battered Joplin hospital where the tornado killed five to see if it could be salvaged.

The death toll has reached at least 122, with 750 people hurt, from a mighty twister that the National Weather Service said was an EF5, the strongest rating assigned to tornadoes, with winds of more than 200 mph. But officials in the southwest Missouri city of 50,000 people say they still hope to find more survivors after two people were rescued from the rubble Tuesday, bringing the total to nine.

"We are still in a search-and-rescue mode," said Mark Rohr, Joplin's city manager. "I want to emphasize that."

Even as Joplin limped forward, violent weather struck again, killing at least eight in Oklahoma, four in Arkansas and two more in Kansas. Late-night tornado sirens had Joplin's residents ducking for cover before the storm brushed past without serious problems.

Officials at St. John's Regional Medical Center sent structural engineers into the nine-story building hit squarely by the twister to see whether it could be saved.

"It's truly was like a bomb went off almost on every floor," chief executive Gary Pulsipher said.

Lynn Britton, president and chief executive of Sisters of Mercy Health Systems, praised the "heroic" efforts by staff and others who helped in the storm's aftermath and said a temporary hospital would be running near the site by Sunday. Patient information was safe after the hospital moved from paper to electronic records in May.

Social networks were the tool of choice for many people trying to track the missing — or to let their loved ones know they were OK.

Several online efforts have focused on Will Norton, a teenager who vanished on his way home from his high school graduation ceremony. Norton was driving with his father, Mark Norton, when the storm hit his Hummer H3. The vehicle flipped several times, and Will was thrown from it, likely through the sunroof.

Sara Norton was on the phone with her father as the two drove home. Mark Norton asked her to open the family's garage door so Mark and Will could get inside quickly. But the two never made it.

I could hear him saying, 'Will, pull over, pull over,'" Sara Norton said.

Mark Norton tried to grab his son, but the storm was too strong. He was hospitalized Tuesday, seriously hurt but still able to talk to his family about what happened.

Will's sister, Sara Norton, and other relatives drove to hospitals throughout Missouri to search for Will. More than 19,000 people supported the "Help Find Will Norton" community page on Facebook, and Twitter users were tweeting heavily about the missing teen.

"I just want to find him, that's all," Sara Norton said Tuesday, on her way home from a Springfield, Mo., hospital. "I'm just determined. I have to find him."

Joplin schools were ravaged by the twister and classes have been canceled for the rest of the school year, but district officials are trying to locate both faculty and many of the school's 2,200 students. The effort has been crippled by downed phone lines. Some students have been located using Facebook.

"We just want to be able to find who we can find and then as confirmation happens offer support to the families if we find out that a kid didn't make it," Joplin High Principal Kerry Sachetta said.

At the same time, some attention has turned to the future. School officials have vowed to be ready for classes to start as scheduled on Aug. 17, despite having four schools destroyed and an estimated $100 million in damage. Superintendent C.J. Huff said the district is taking inventory to determine which buildings can be used and talking to other districts about possibly having Joplin students attend their schools.

The Joplin tornado was the deadliest single twister since the weather service began keeping official records in 1950 and the eighth-deadliest in U.S. history. Scientists said it appeared to be a rare "multivortex" tornado, with two or more small and intense centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel.

Bill Davis, the lead forecaster on a National Weather Service survey team, said he would need to look at video to try to confirm that. But he said the strength of the tornado was evident from the many stout buildings that were damaged: St. John's Regional Medical Center, Franklin Technology Center, a bank gone except for its vault, a Pepsi bottling plant and "numerous, and I underscore numerous, well-built residential homes that were basically leveled."

Davis' first thought on arriving in town to do the survey, he said, was: "Where do you start?"

Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this story from Kansas City.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

4:34pm update

Health officials are warning residents and volunteers to be aware of any cuts or puncture wounds they get while working in the damaged areas.

Minor injuries can lead to serious infections, like Tetanus, which can be deadly.

Yesterday, Joplin received an emergency shipment of 1,300 doses of a Tetanus-containing vaccine.

Volunteers are asked to register at the Billingsly Student Center on the MSSU campus after 8 a.m.  There volunteers register and get wristbands that give them access to the disaster areas.

5:39pm update (includes a 9:32pm update)

When residents start digging through the rubble and find their clothes, or just need to wash the ones they have on their backs, there is hope.

Tide Loads of Hope Mobile Laundry Unit and Duracell Batteries have brought some much needed relief to some.

Washing clothes and charging cell phones and computers is  now one less thing they have to worry about.

"We have computers for people to come and jump on the Internet, maybe get their business back together, check their e-mail, whatever they need to do, we do have computers and Internet available," says John Russell, the manager of Loads of Hope.

Tide Loads of Hope is available until Monday and Duracell will be available until Tuesday.  Both are located at the 7th Street Walmart.

5:49pm update

The Joplin Family Y is offering free child care.  The facility is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for any child in the community five years and older.

Children get to play in a safe friendly environment while not having to be overwhelmed by the tornado's destruction.

It's a service they can provide and know is needed says Grace Love, the YMCA Assistant Director of Promotions.

"They've got to have a place to go - parents going to the hospitals - some parents still have to work or even sorting through their house," says Love.  "They've got to have a place go where they are loved and they can go in, have fun and have an outlet."

About 30 children played in the child care today at the south facility.

Free childcare is also available at the downtown facility.

5:58pm update

Joplin School District was hit hard and is still trying to plan out what's too come for thousands of students.

Irving Elementary School was one of the buildings destroyed by the storm.

And now district officials say all of the students and staff from Irving are accounted for.

Superintendent CJ Huff says the support is overwhelming.

5:59pm update

Permits are no longer required to come and go from the disaster area.

We reported yesterday that stations would be set up for residents to receive permits to enter the disaster area in a vehicle.

Authorities say that is no longer the case.

However the curfew is still in effect within the disaster area between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Residents should be mindful that some roads are still blocked due to rescue efforts.

6:05pm update

Power crews have a lot of work ahead of them.

Empire District Electric says as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, approximately 14,000 customers remain without service.

Empire says around 10,000 of those customers are within the tornado-devastated area and a substantial number will not be able to accept service for the foreseeable future.

Power crews caution residents to be careful.

"The first thing that we want to make sure that people are aware of is that we do have overhead power lines that are energized still," says Brent Baker, Director of Customer Service.  "We want our customers to be safe around our power lines.  We have a 10 foot radius that we want heavy equipment and equipment being used to work on your house to stay away from those power lines.  So please be mindful of our overhead power lines."

Empire customers are encouraged to call 811 to have underground services marked before clean-up begins.

6:37pm update

by Angela Garcia

"I was at Oklahoma City, 9/11 and Katrina, and this is as bad as Katrina without the water," says Missy Epperson, the Midwest K9 Search & Rescue project leader.  "It's a mess down there - I've never seen anything like it.  It's bad.  When we go on a disaster we either go on donations or out of our own pockets.  It's just a lot of hard work."

Around 50 canine teams are in Joplin helping continue the search for missing people.

Crews use German Shepards because they utilize sense, sight, and hearing to help find trapped victims.

Workers go to an area after receiving a tip from emergency personnel.

Six year old Trecker is one of 13 dogs that the Midwest K-9 Search & Rescue crew use for searches.

Trecker was rescued - from a humane shelter.

"They had said that they had a German Shepard, and that's where I got Trecker from," says Rich Enrochs.  "He was about a year and a half old, and I thought, 'you know what - what better way to use a dog than to save his life and then let him save others?'"

Each dog has a unique indicator for when they find a person.  Trecker will stick his nose in the area or squat.

Project leader Missy Epperson says the dogs and crew members work around the clock.

"As long as we're helping and we find someone it gives families closure - if they're alive it's even better," says Epperson.

The team found a 73 year old Joplin man near St. John's who was alive and trapped under debris.

"It was a lot of hugging going on," says Epperson.  "It was good to see him alive."

Trecker is also rewarded for hard work.

"It's very important to praise your dog for something that he does good," says Enrochs.  "It's kind of like a hide and seek game for him.  Somebody's hiding and he's gotta find them.  And that's kind of what it is - that's kind of how we do it and he likes the game.  He loves to help."

For more information about the Midwest K-9 Search & Rescue contact Missy Epperson: 

7:01pm update

The tornado brought plenty of damage but homeowners could face another costly problem:  scam artists.

Police are on the lookout for those offering help to residents at a price that's too good to be true.

While the city has made arrangements for towing from some public lots, most of those are being handled for free.

The Better Business Bureau says its important when someone offers to do tree cutting work, siding or roofing that you check their credentials before paying a cent.

"The city of Joplin is requiring every business get a license before doing work in the city," says Cara Restelli, Director of Community Outreach for the Better Business Bureau.  "Part of that license is to make sure insured, bonded and have other credentials."

Restelli suggests visiting www.bbb.org to find out if an organization is legitimate.

Restelli says plenty of legitimate organizations are in town offering services for free and residents should take advantage of those offers.

7:30pm update

Missouri American Water tells us the boil order for their Joplin area customers IS still in effect. They have flushed about 20% of the system and hope to be done by the end of the weekend.

Once they are done flushing the system they will take a sample - that is the earliest they will be able to lift the boil order.

7:55pm update

By NOMAAN MERCHANT | Associated Press

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Rescuers refused to be deterred from their efforts to find survivors beneath Joplin's jagged piles of tornado rubble, even as the death toll rose Wednesday to 125.

No new survivors had been pulled from the city's wrecked neighborhoods, but determined crews carried on with the search, checking some areas for a fourth time since Sunday's disaster. They planned to do a fifth sweep, too.

"We never give up. We're not going to give up," City Manager Mark Rohr told a news conference. "We'll continue to search as we develop the next phase in the process."

Rohr raised by three the death toll of the nation's deadliest single tornado in more than 60 years. The estimated number of injured climbed to more than 900.

At least 50 dogs have joined the search, and the teams were also using listening devices in hopes of picking up the faint sound of anyone still alive beneath the collapsed homes and businesses.

"We've had stories from earthquakes and tsunamis and other disasters of people being found two or three weeks later," Fire Chief Mitch Randles said. "And we are hopeful that we'll have a
story like that to tell."

Searchers "try to get into every space. We're yelling. We've got the dogs sniffing. We've got listening devices," Randles said.

Meanwhile, roughly 100 people were reviewing information about individuals who were reported missing after the storm. Rohr said the group was making progress, but he declined to say how many remain unaccounted for.

Authorities have cautioned that people who are unaccounted for are not necessarily dead or trapped in debris. Many, if not most, of them probably survived the storm but have failed to tell friends and family where they are.

The Joplin tornado was the deadliest single twister since the National Weather Service began keeping official records in 1950. It was the eighth-deadliest in U.S. history.

Scientists said the system was an EF-5, the strongest rating assigned to tornadoes, with winds of more than 200 mph.

It also appeared to be a rare "multivortex" tornado, with two or more small and intense centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel.

Bill Davis, the lead forecaster on a weather service team sent to survey the damage, said he would need to look at video to confirm that.

But, he said, the strength of the tornado was evident from the many stout buildings that were damaged: St. John's Regional Medical Center, a bank that was destroyed except for its vault, a Pepsi bottling plant and "numerous well-built residential homes that were basically leveled."

Davis recalled his first thought on arriving in town to conduct the survey: "Where do you start?"

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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