The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 27, 2011

Death toll reaches 126

By Wally Kennedy
The Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — The death toll from Sunday’s tornado climbed to 126 on Thursday as another body was found in the debris. There were no rescues on Thursday.

City Manager Mark Rohr said it is possible that other bodies will be discovered as the removal of debris continues in the days ahead.

On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Public Safety released a list of the missing that contained 232 names. The original list, Rohr said, contained as many as 3,000 names that were provided to the American Red Cross.

Rohr said it is his understanding that the names of the deceased are included on that list. If so, the actual number of missing is closer to 106.

The list is to be updated today to reflect the removal of names by those who call 417-659-6868 to report that they are not missing. Three people informed the Globe on Thursday that their names should not be on that list.

Gov. Jay Nixon told a large gathering of local residents on Thursday at Missouri Southern State University that he has placed the Missouri State Highway Patrol in control of that list and has provided additional resources to account for every individual.

“We will not rest until everyone is accounted for and that list is zero,” he said.



STATE ORDERS

Nixon signed three executive orders Thursday to help those affected by the tornado.

One of them provides relief to Joplin-area residents who have lost their state identification or vehicle ownership documents. Under the order, the Missouri Department of Revenue will issue replacements for valid cards and documents, waiving all fees.

Those documents include driver’s licenses, nondriver’s licenses, certificates of vehicle ownership, license plates and plate registration stickers.

The second order provides emergency protections for the insurance coverage of Joplin-area residents. The order temporarily forbids insurance companies from raising rates or canceling coverage for residents of Jasper and Newton counties.

That order prohibits insurance companies from increasing rates on any policy starting on or after May 22; prohibits insurance companies from terminating coverage for any reason; requires insurance companies to provide copies of policies to consumers at no charge; and, for consumers with prescription drug coverage, requires insurance companies to cover the cost of a prescription, even if the consumer had it filled recently.

The third order directs the Missouri National Guard to coordinate and supervise the cleanup and removal of debris. The order also directs the adjutant general to call into active duty additional military personnel and equipment as necessary to execute and complete the mission.

The guard will work in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local contractors and the city of Joplin. Rohr said there is no estimate yet as to what that debris removal will cost. He said the city will apply for federal funding.

Nixon, making his remarks before a packed house in Taylor Performing Arts Center, said he was bringing every available state resource to Joplin to expedite the recovery effort. .

Among the departments that have established a presence at the university so that local residents can have direct interaction are those connected to insurance, economic development, housing development, health and senior services, natural resources, mental health, social services, revenue, and agriculture.



WATCHFUL EYES

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his investigators will be on the lookout for those who will attempt to take advantage of people during this disaster. He said reports of price gouging will be probed. Local residents, he said, need to be aware that scammers could be at work in the area. He said no one should pay for work until the work is done.

Libby Turner, lead official for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Missouri, encouraged those attending the public meeting to register with FEMA for federal assistance by dialing 800-621-3362.

She said some who should sign up have been reluctant do so because they think “somebody else needs help more than I do.” She said that while that is a commendable reaction, everyone who needs help should sign up. The agency can help with temporary housing and repairs, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor said people who have lost their jobs should file for unemployment as quickly as possible. She asked the unemployed to raise their hands. Many attending the meeting did. She told them to come to the front of the auditorium and begin that registration as soon as the meeting concluded.

Those filing for unemployment benefits have a 30-day window to do so. That window closes on June 22. The unemployed, including those who were beginning a job, can register in Room 222 of Phinney Hall at Southern, at Sam’s Club, and at the Missouri Career Center at Eighth Street and Wall Avenue. People also may file by calling the Regional Claims Center at 800-320-2519.

Steve Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, said 260 members of the guard are serving in Joplin. The guard has formed three task forces for its mission here: for security, for President Barack Obama’s visit on Sunday, and for debris removal.



FREEMAN HEALTH SYSTEM

Earlier Thursday, Freeman Health System staged a news conference at Freeman Hospital West to announce that it is fully operational. Hospital officials provided new details about what happened in the hours after Sunday’s tornado.

Freeman treated more than 500 patients that night and performed 22 life-saving surgeries. In all, the patient load was 1,118. Of those, 124 were transferred to area, regional and neighboring-state hospitals. Eleven died at the hospital that night.

Bob Denton, an emergency room physician, said: “It was field triage and field medicine. Everywhere you looked were critical patients.”

There were 23 helicopter flights in and out of the hospital that night. Some of them were to the Joplin Regional Airport, where patients were placed in fixed-wing aircraft for transfer to other hospitals.

Dr. Rick Schooler, Freeman’s chief medical officer, said 111 patients who were admitted with tornado-related injuries remain in the hospital. Eleven of them are in critical care. There are no unidentified patients in the hospital, he said.

Schooler said between 300 and 320 Freeman employees lost their homes.

Gary Duncan, president of Freeman, said Medicare, which licenses the number of beds a hospital can have, has temporarily lifted restrictions at Freeman Neosho Hospital and at Freeman Hospital East to create an additional 100 or so inpatient rooms, should the need arise.

“May 22, 2011, was a tragic day for this community,” said Duncan. “Freeman physicians and nurses have been here day and night since the storm struck. They will continue to do so for as long as it takes this community to heal.”

A hospital spokesman said Freeman OB-GYN physicians and nurse midwives have been relocated to 3333 McIntosh Circle. Because some physicians’ offices have had to relocate, their new location will be available on the Freeman website or by calling the main Freeman number at 417-347-1111.

Despite the loss of the Ozark Center for Autism, services for families with children living with autism will continue through in-home visits.

Ozark Center has established a temporary treatment center, and is providing counseling and services for those struggling to cope with their loss. Therapists are available to the community through a 24-hour crisis hot line at 417-347-7720.



Cable, power

Also Thursday, Cable One said service has been restored to the area south of the tornado’s path. Service should be restored throughout the day today for customers north of the tornado’s path.

Melany Stroupe, spokeswoman for the company, said technicians have made major strides now that access to damaged areas has been gained.

Customers who recover damaged equipment may return it to Cable One’s office, but Stroupe said hunting for lost equipment isn’t necessary.

“We’ll give people the benefit of the doubt,” Stroupe said. “We don’t want people putting themselves in harm’s way for that. We know the areas that are damaged.”

Empire District Electric Co. on Thursday said progress continues in the restoration of its electrical system. It is estimated that crews will have the majority of customers who can receive service back on by Sunday. The number of customers experiencing an outage is about 11,000.



STAFF WRITER Joe Hadsall contributed to this report.