By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Citing a string of floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Thursday said the nation has experienced “a terrible spring” this year.
“But nothing compares to the size and scope of the devastation I have seen here,” she said at a news conference outside Joplin’s Emergency Operations Center at Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
She said what is striking about Joplin is “the proportion of the loss in relation to the size of the community. There has been nothing like it.”
She said she came to Joplin on Thursday “because it is valuable for me to see on the ground what is occurring.”
Accompanied by Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Rep. Billy Long, Napolitano said she and the governor wanted to thank in person the thousands of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other professionals who responded in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.
They also commended the thousands of individuals who have stepped forward since the storm to volunteer their time and energy to assist with recovery efforts.
Nixon said that in the days immediately after the storm, more than 400 law enforcement, fire, search and rescue, and ambulance agencies deployed to Joplin.
Some of the deployments were coordinated in advance through state mutual aid agreements. Other agencies, including numerous ones from outside Missouri, volunteered to travel to Joplin on their own.
“In the wake of this natural disaster, Missourians have come together with a spirit of faith, resilience and resolve,” Nixon said. “We clearly saw that spirit in the professionals from more than 400 public safety organizations from across our state and throughout the country that responded to the call for help, and that spirit has continued with thousands of volunteers who have traveled to Joplin to help those in need.
“Once again, the toughest of times have brought out the best spirit of the people and professionals of the Show-Me State.”
Nixon said what happened in Joplin could be a model for other states.
SUPPORT TO CONTINUE
Napolitano said: “The Obama administration remains dedicated to helping Joplin and communities throughout Missouri as we work together in our recovery efforts to become stronger and more resilient than ever before.
“We will not leave until the job is finished, and we will continue to support our team of federal, state, local and community partners that are working tirelessly to help the people of Missouri rebuild their communities.”
She said those in charge of the debris removal have been given a federal deadline to accomplish that mission by Aug. 7.
“My prediction,” she said, “is that Joplin will not only survive, but thrive in the end.”
Napolitano toured the area devastated by the tornado and the temporary field hospital that houses St. John’s Mercy Hospital. The group met with hospital leadership, praising Mercy Health System physicians and nurses for their quick response to the destruction of St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
Napolitano pledged continuing federal support to help return St. John’s Mercy Hospital to a fully functioning hospital in the months ahead.
The group also toured the emergency operations center and met with law enforcement leaders.
GOV. JAY NIXON noted Thursday that more than 15,300 volunteers have contributed more than 63,000 hours to relief and recovery efforts in Joplin.