Joplin Helps Mobilizing Despite Communication Wipeout

May 23, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

This spring seems to be bringing with it a new crisis almost every week for disaster relief organizations. Just weeks after a massive tornado whipped through Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., and the Mississippi River crested in Memphis, Tenn., among other areas, relief organizations are sending resources to Joplin, Mo., where a tornado struck last night.

At least report, at least 89 people were killed and thousands are now homeless in what’s being described as the single deadliest tornado in the U.S. in more than a half-century. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told the Associated Press that he fears the death toll from a tornado will increase, but also expects survivors to be pulled from the rubble.



The American Red Cross has set up a website, https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php, where people can report that they are safe, as well as search for people who have registered as being safe. The Red Cross had a shelter open hours after the tornado struck, with 100 people in it last night and expectations for as many as 150 today, according to Suzy DeFrancis, chief public affairs officer for the Red Cross.

Several Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) are going into neighborhoods to deliver food and water, said DeFrancis, and the organization is pulling more help from operations in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, along with mental health counseling for survivors. Supplies are being drawn from a branch office in Joplin and warehouses in St. Joseph and St. Louis, she said.

Joplin is located in the southwest corner of Missouri, near the borders with Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Michael Spencer, a spokesman for the national Red Cross based in the organization’s Fayetteville, Ark., office, said a shelter was opened last night at Missouri Southern State University, with a capacity for 3,600 people. Many people remain in the area, checking on neighbors to make sure they’re OK, he said. “It’s a very tight-knit community and I’ve heard a lot about neighbors helping neighbors,” said Spencer, adding that people are visiting the shelter for food and water at this point.

The Red Cross is supporting search and rescue operations by local authorities and once the area is deemed safe, damage assessment teams will help determine where to set up services to reach victims fastest, said Spencer. The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) has mobilized four feeding units from Pittsburg, Kan.; Springfield and Kirksville, Mo., and Tulsa, Okla. to the impacted areas of Joplin.

Mobile feeding units are also serving in other cities that were impacted by tornadoes over the weekend throughout the Midwest. Three mobile kitchens and crews are at St. Louis Park, Fridley and North Minneapolis in Minnesota; two in Reading, Kan., are serving meals, snacks and cold drinks to more than 250 people. Mobile feeding units and crews also are being deployed to Grove and Ketchum, Okla., where tornado damage was reported on Sunday.

Monetary donations are the most critical need as supplies and personnel are mobilized, according to Salvation Army, which provided four ways to contribute to disaster relief efforts in Joplin: • Text “Joplin” to 80888 to make a $10 donation • Call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (Joplin Tornado Relief) • Online at www.donate.salvationarmy.org • Mail to Joplin Tornado Relief, The Salvation Army, 3637 Broadway; Kansas City, Mo.;, 64111. The Red Cross also is accepting donations through a variety of channels: • Text “Red Cross” to 90999 to donate $10 • Phone, 1-800 RED CROSS • Online at www.redcross.org

It’s been a busy spring for the American Red Cross. In a map of the U.S. highlighting where it’s responding to disasters, a swath of red stretches from Texas and Florida in the south, up the middle of the country to Minnesota, encompassing 17 states. Since March 31, the Red Cross has responded to 25 larger disasters, opening 190 shelters and serving 1.7 million meals and snacks while distributing more than a million items, like tarps, gloves and cleaning supplies. Almost two dozen shelters have opened in Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri alone.

Just last week, The Salvation Army’s Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division is prepared to respond to areas in Louisiana and Mississippi affected by the rising waters of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basins, in addition to a tornado outbreak in the Southeast less than a month ago.

With widespread flooding and thousands of homes affected, The Salvation Army last week placed 26 disaster units on alert for possible response into affected areas once the waters recede sometime in the next month. Warehouses in New Orleans, La., and Vicksburg, Miss., were being stocked in with food, household items, hygiene kits, and bulk cleaning supplies for distribution to residents of flooded areas once the waters diminish and residents are allowed to return home. Salvation Army units in Mississippi and Louisiana were preparing to provide case workers to help families displaced from the flood waters. Case management will help identify resources that are available to flood survivors.

Cindy Howell, vice president of resource development and marketing at the United Way of the Ozarks in nearby Springfield, Mo., said communication with Joplin is sporadic at best. Even most cell phones are not working. The United Way is directing volunteers to the Greater Ozarks Region chapter of the American Red Cross. Howell said they had not be able to contact officials at the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas, in Joplin, and Springfield’s executive director was on the way over there to evaluated the situation.

There were more than 75,000 friends on a Facebook page called Joplin, Mo. Tornado Recovery in less than 24 hours after the storm. The Joplin Globe, the town’s daily newspaper was posting updates to its Facebook page with 5,000 followers.