By Greg Grisolano
Bill Schubert and his wife were trying to sleep in their RV when the storm blew through Joplin on Friday morning.
In town to visit relatives, the Schuberts fled their RV and took cover in his sister’s home about five minutes before hurricane-force winds planted a large oak tree on his vehicle.
“There was lightning, thunderstorms, hail, and boy did that wind blow,” said the 86-year-old retired Navy veteran. “We’ve got a motor-home treehouse here.”
Schubert and his wife drove the RV to Joplin last week to visit his sister, who lives on the 3500 block of Oak Ridge Drive. The roof of her home also was damaged.
The circumference of the tree measured 82 inches, he said.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” Schubert said. “I’ve got three roots coming through the roof of it. I think the motor home is a write-off.”
He said he had planned to continue cross-country to South Carolina and Florida, before the weather changed his plans.
Schubert and his family are among thousands affected by the powerful thunderstorm that Friday morning ripped across the Tri-State Area. State and local officials estimate damage to thousands of homes and businesses, and thousands of trees.
The high-wind swath was bordered on the north by Sherman, West Mineral and Scammon in Southeast Kansas. In Missouri, the northern edge of the swath went north of Asbury and through Jasper. The southern edge of the swath went through Melrose and Galena in Kansas, and through Joplin and Carthage in Missouri.
Stammer said the most damage inflicted by the storm was in Joplin and Carl Junction. More than 2,000 homes sustained damage in Joplin alone.
The storm also toppled a 1,000-foot telecommunications tower at KSNF-TV studio on West 16th Street in Joplin. No injuries were reported, but two homes and the station’s studio were damaged.
The American Red Cross continued providing hot meals and, if necessary, a place to sleep on Saturday at an emergency shelter set up in the basement of Forest Park Baptist Church.
James Filbeck, of Joplin, was among those gathered Saturday night before dinner was served at the shelter.
“We slept here last night,” Filbeck said. “We’ll stay here until the power comes back on.”
Linda Nothnagle, the shelter manager, said that 10 people slept at the shelter on Friday night, counting three staff members. She said that the numbers would be much higher if the storm had come through at the peak of summer.
“But this time of year, it’s not too cold and it’s not too hot,” Nothnagle said.
The biggest job the Red Cross was fulfilling in the area was providing meals.
“People can’t cook because of the power outage,” she said.
J.J. Travis, the emergency services manager for the Red Cross in Joplin, said that about 250 people were fed on Saturday, and she expects to see those numbers increase. She said that the Red Cross will team up with the Salvation Army to serve food today.
“We’re on the second day with no power, and people want a hot meal,” she said.
Nothnagle said there is no set time for the shelter to close. It will depend on the needs of the community, she said.
“We’ll be open as long as people need a place to stay,” she said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon met with community leaders and emergency personnel on Saturday at the Carl Junction Fire Station to assess the damage and needs of the region.
Nixon declared a state of emergency on Friday. After visiting Carl Junction, the governor was expected to travel to other storm-damaged communities in the state.
“We’re here to assess what the damages are and make sure we can get whatever dollars at the state and federal level that are available to solve the challenges caused by this act of God,” he said after the meeting Saturday. “We’re still in emergency-response mode now, until people are back in power and back up.”
Nixon said he expects to hear sometime late next week whether the federal government will issue its own disaster declaration.Keith Stammer, Joplin and Jasper County emergency management coordinator, said it would be important for the communities to be able to access federal disaster relief funds to aid the cleanup.
“Oh, it’s huge,” he said. “Huge. The state declaration that came from the governor was quite helpful. But from the state you get services. From the feds, you get money.”
Nixon also praised the resiliency and response of residents and public-safety personnel, who he pointed out are dealing with the third significant weather disaster in the area in roughly a year.
Jasper and Newton counties were severely damaged by a killer tornado on May 10, 2008, and by a crippling ice storm last winter.
“We’ve seen three in a row here inside a year period,” Nixon said. “That’s a challenge most areas of the state and country haven’t had to face before. But for the strength of the people in this area, it would have been even more problematic.”
During a roundtable discussion with emergency personnel, Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn asked the governor for assistance in getting a replacement generator for the department offices on Route AA.
The generator malfunctioned around 6 p.m. Friday, and Dunn said the lack of power had hampered some of the department’s operations. The sheriff said everything from the telephones, computer systems and booking systems were affected.
“Most of our mainframe and everything is out there, so when that goes down, the systems at the jail and everything go down as well,” he said. “So it actually brought the jail to a standstill also.”
Dunn said the department turned a communications van into a makeshift computer center, and that officers were still able to log reports into computers in their vehicles. The issue is that those reports cannot be transferred from the vehicle to the central office with the mainframe offline.
Nixon said he would make an effort to obtain a generator from the Missouri Army National Guard.
About 28,000 Empire District Electric Co. customers remained without power Saturday night. Outages were spread throughout the utility’s service area in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
In Joplin, all major lines had been restored and work was continuing on secondary lines, according to a news release from Empire.
Power in Aurora should be completely restored today. Restoration work will also continue today in Neosho as well as Webb City, which is still experiencing issues with the transmission system, according to the release.
The utility reported that some of the worst damage was sustained in the Kansas service area, which includes the communities of Columbus, Weir, West Mineral and Scammon. Repairs there will take more time to complete.
Work is also progressing in rural locations throughout Empire’s service area.
In Barton County, fewer than 300 power outages remained Saturday night in the service area of the Barton County Electric Cooperative.
Jeff Hull, the co-op’s director of member services, said in a news release that linemen would take a rest period beginning at dark Saturday and then resume work this morning.
Stammer said he received about a half dozen telephone calls from Joplin residents who said they did not hear the city’s storm sirens when they were sounded Friday morning.
He said all of the callers indicated that they did not hear the sirens when they were activated minutes before the storm struck at 7 a.m. However, they indicated they did hear the sirens when they were activated again at 8 a.m.
He said the callers were from various parts of the city, suggesting to him that no single siren might have malfunctioned Friday morning. Still, city workers will test the sirens in the neighborhoods where the callers live early this week to make certain they are operational.
Stammer said the possibility exists that the sound of the storm itself was so loud that some who would normally hear the sirens were not able to during the first activation Friday morning. There also is the possibility, he said, that the sound waves from the sirens were influenced by the winds, noting that people east of the sirens might have been able to hear them better than those west of the sirens.
The city’s sirens are sounded when a storm is approaching Joplin with winds of 75 mph or when a tornado is approaching Joplin. The National Weather Service said wind gusts Friday morning reached 85 mph in Joplin.
Globe staff writers Wally Kennedy and Derek Spellman and Features Editor Scott Meeker contributed to this report.
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