Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Devastation as far as the Eye Can See

Joplin's Deadly Tornado

Joplin, MO (May 24, 2011) -- I'm a former Missourian and returning to Joplin is bittersweet. I had done some EMS training at St. John's Healthcare and my son lives nearby. Today, I had the opportunity to embed with Missouri USAR Task Force-1 our of Columbia. The last time I saw many of these Firefighters, Medics and Volunteers was during the rescue & recovery at Ground Zero in NYC.

But there was no discussion about the World Trade Center nor other past jobs. Today's focus was on finding victims and recovering of bodies at the Home Depot Store on E. 20th Street - Joplin's OWN Ground Zero from Sunday evening's EF5 Tornado.

During the Wedge-shaped multi-vortex twister, many shoppers sought refuge along the concrete walls that lined the front of the store. They would have been much better off laying low in the open center of the structure. Hammered by 200 + Mile Per Hour winds, the concrete facades quickly failed and fell inward crushing those who believed the walls would block the force of the winds and flying debris.

Yesterday morning, Missouri Task Force-1 - operating with 70 Rescuers - took on the grim job of removing smashed concrete in order to recover the dead. The operation included about 10 large Cat Backhoes with grapplers, a scene reminiscent of New York's Ground Zero.

Once the concrete had been moved, four canine search teams began the job of walking through the debris in order to determine specific locations of the dead and missing. They did so alone, without their handlers - and they did it quickly.

Today brings a similar task - searching a near-by Walmat* Store, which was filled with shoppers when the tornado ripped into the free-standing building.

Although the number of missing is a closely guarded secret, I was told by CNN's Anderson Cooper that it is near 1,500. Now, not everyone unaccounted for is dead - some may be living with relatives, others may likely not have thought to check in with authorities. But the death toll will rise nonetheless.

My helmet is off to FEMA's Director Craig Fugate, whose experience on the front lines, is the trait that makes him stand alone, head and shoulders above all previous FEMA Directors combined. As a Paramedic and former Firefighter, Fugate understands the need for immediate response.

In fact, FEMA personnel had boots on the ground in Joplin within 12 hours of the tragic disaster, and Fugate himself was not far behind. Earlier in the day, I watched as he helped move debris to find a family's pet - alive!!

As always, the brightest part of this story is the incredible turnout of individuals - everyday citizens - who have taken it upon themselves to help feed, clothe and house those who have lost everything. I've always believed that the human spirit is filled with an endless well of good - and during situations like this disaster in Joplin, what has poured from this well makes me proud to be an American.


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