First responders deal with the emergency - WDRB 41 Louisville News

First responders deal with the emergency

Sunday's storm in Joplin hit a hospital packed with patients and a commercial area including a Home Depot construction store, numerous smaller businesses and restaurants and a grocery store.

Jasper County emergency management director Keith Stammer said an estimated 2,000 buildings were damaged.  Among the worst-hit locations in Joplin was St. John's Regional Medical Center. The staff had just a few moments' notice to hustle patients into hallways before the storm struck the nine-story building, blowing out hundreds of windows and leaving the facility useless.

In the parking lot, a helicopter lay crushed on its side, its rotors torn apart and windows smashed. Nearby, a pile of cars lay crumpled into a single mass of twisted metal. Matt Sheffer dodged downed power lines, trees and closed streets to make it to his dental office across from the hospital. Rubble littered a flattened lot where a pharmacy, gas station and some doctors' offices once stood.

"My office is totally gone. Probably for two to three blocks, it's just leveled," he said. "The building that my office was in was not flimsy. It was 30 years old and two layers of brick. It was very sturdy and well built."

St. John's patients were evacuated to other hospitals in the region, said Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the medical center's sister hospital in Springfield.

Early Monday morning, floodlights from a temporary triage facility lit what remained of the hospital that once held as many 367 patients. Police officers could be seen combing the surrounding area for bodies.

Miranda Lewis, a spokeswoman for St. John's, was at home when the tornado sirens began going off. Early Monday, she had no details on any deaths or injuries suffered at the hospital in the tornado strike, although she had seen the damaged building.

"It's like what you see someplace else, honestly," Lewis said. "That's a terrible way to say it, but you don't recognize what's across the street.  "I had seen it on television, but until you're standing right here and see the devastation, you can't believe it."

Michael Spencer, a national Red Cross spokesman who also assisted in the aftermath of a tornado that devastated nearby Pierce City in 2003, was also stunned.

"I've been to about 75 disasters, and I've never seen anything quite like this before," Spencer said. "You don't typically see metal structures and metal frames torn apart, and that's what you see here."

Triage centers and shelters set up around the city quickly filled to capacity. At Memorial Hall, a downtown entertainment venue, nurses and other emergency workers from across the region were treating critically injured patients.

At another makeshift unit at a Lowe's home improvement store, wooden planks served as beds. Outside, ambulances and fire trucks waited for calls. During one stretch after midnight Monday, emergency vehicles were scrambling nearly every two minutes.

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