Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Joplin report

joplin 4103_4_5_tonemapped

The wrecked St. John’s Hospital looms on the horizon in this view into the heart of Joplin’s Ground Zero from the deck of a flattened house on Connor Street.

I didn’t blog yesterday because I was kinda busy.

I was up at 4:45 a.m. and down at Dr. Susan Myshka’s office in time for a 6:15 a.m. departure in a four-truck convoy of shoes, medical supplies and other stuff for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.

Generous folks in Northeast Arkansas and Jonesboro had donated thousands of pairs of new and gently used shoes over a three-day period. We ended up hauling 10 big washer/dryer cardboard boxes full of them – almost 14 cubic yards of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes – in response to a specific request for shoes from disaster relief folks in Joplin.

It’s about a five-hour drive from Jonesboro to Joplin. We stopped for a quick McDonald’s lunch at Springfield, Mo., and arrived in Joplin a little after noon in the middle of an intense thunderstorm.

My Garmin Zumo 550 GPS guided us to Forest Park Baptist Church where we were turned away because they already had more shoes than they knew what to shoesdo with.

Susan called her contact at one of the Catholic churches and we ended up taking our cargo to McAuley Catholic High School where students unloaded our trailers and trucks of shoes and two pallets of baby wipes and stacked the stuff in the school’s two gyms.

Susan noticed a couple and their little girl standing around looking forlorn and discovered they had been waiting for an hour for some shoes. She led them into the gym and made sure they were properly shod. Here’s Hailey Beaman, 7, with her new shoes.

That’s her mother, Vickie Beaman, behind her.

After several phone calls, it became apparent that things are still in chaos when it comes to accepting donations of medical supplies. We ended up stuffing wheelchairs, neck braces, surgical gloves, several pairs of crutches, arm and leg braces and other items into the SUVs of a nurse and a doctor’s wife with a request that they take them where they’d do the most good.

Father J. Friddel, a priest we met at McAuley Catholic High School, said the community needs a week or two to get organized to properly accept, store and distribute the tons of donated materials and supplies that pour in daily from across the country. He urged Susan and others to be patient and hold off on more donations until things are more coordinated in Joplin.

Our mission accomplished, we split up. The two older couples who participated in the project opted to spend the night in the area rather than do another five-hour drive yesterday.

Susan’s assistant Judy and another woman with whom she rode headed back and Susan and I did a brief tour of the disaster area.

I’ve seen widespread tornado devastation before when I was a reporter for The Indianapolis News, in particular the Super Outbreak of tornados in April, 1974, that flattened much of Monticello and Rochester in Indiana. But the devastation at Joplin was significantly worse. I was particularly struck by one house we saw on the edge of the affected area where the whole house had been carried away and smashed, leaving the basement exposed. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have survived in that basement.

We saw a few families picking through the debris of their homes and a crew of yellow hard-hatted emergency workers busy with what looked like a body recovery in what used to be a house.

Signs advertising free food are everywhere and we noticed a fitness center offering free laundry service and free showers to the newly homeless.

A little context from the local FOX channel:

Officials in Joplin, MO have upped the death toll from last Sunday’s massive tornado to at least 139 people. The updated total that was released Saturday rose by seven. The state has been working to pare down the list of people missing and unaccounted for in the wake of the disaster. The original list of 232 had dropped to 156 by Friday.

More and more of those killed in the storm are being identified. On Saturday, the state of Missouri released a list of 31 individuals whose next-of- kin had been notified of their deaths. The victims ages range from 6 to 92.

The tornado was the deadliest single U.S. twister in more than six decades.

After a so-so buffet dinner at a T/A travel center (truck stop), we treated ourselves to a quick tour of the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. It’s the mothership of Bass Pro Shops and the sign over the front door proclaims it”s “The Granddaddy of all Outdoor Shops.”

bassproshopsAnd, yes, it is. We only saw a fraction of it and noted they have two more buildings under construction at the complex there in Springfield.

I contented myself with buying 50 rounds of 9mm Luger ammo for $16.24, tax included.

I got home a few minutes before midnight, hit the sack and was up about 9 a.m. today.

Now I have to write a story about it for the paper.

Thanks to all of my Facebook friends for the kind words and encouragement on the trip.

No comments: