The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

May 9, 2013

Residents remember tornado that hit Picher, Newton County on fifth anniversary of storm

Though the May 2011 Joplin tornado is fresher in memories and was larger in strength and scale, what happened five years ago — on the eve of Mother’s Day — hasn’t faded for those who experienced it.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of another large disaster that hit the area. An EF-4 tornado on May 10, 2008, killed 22 people, most of them in Picher, Okla., and in Newton County.

Gary Roark, emergency management director for Newton County, said he and his wife were in Joplin on that Saturday morning, when it was cool and there were showers.

In the early afternoon, clouds cleared and the temperature rose. Roark remembers seeing someone with a barbecue smoker set up at Lant’s Feed and Farm Supply Store on Missouri Highway 43 on his drive back home to Seneca. He sat down to watch a ballgame on TV, but he also kept an eye on the weather radar on his computer and tuned in his police scanner.

His calm afternoon didn’t last.

‘UTTER Chaos’

The tornado struck Picher first, killing six people. Warning sirens sounded at 5:20 p.m., 19 minutes before the tornado struck, thanks to a weather spotter in Welch, Okla. That was six minutes before the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning.

The siren gave some residents time to flee, but six people didn’t make it.

The tornado destroyed 160 houses in the lead-contaminated town that at the time was undergoing a federal buyout.

The tornado weakened some before merging with a new funnel at the Missouri state line, creating a tornado estimated to be a mile wide.

It was in the area of Highway 43 and Iris Road, between Joplin and Seneca, where the tornado struck with its greatest force.

Seneca Area Fire Protection District volunteer Tyler Casey, 21, was at the location to serve as a weather spotter. Witnesses credited Casey with warning at least three people to take shelter as the tornado approached. Casey, however, was caught in his vehicle. He died of his injuries a few days later.

Manford Vangunda, a board member and medical officer with the Seneca Area Fire Protection District, said the loss of Casey was difficult for the fire district at the time, and it continues to be difficult.

“It hits close to home,” Vangunda said.

He said that every year on the anniversary of Casey’s death, members go to his grave, lay a wreath and have a time of remembrance.

Vangunda was on duty as a paramedic with the Newton County Ambulance District when the tornado struck in 2008. He said his ambulance was dispatched to Highway 43 and Bethel Road, where there was one fatality.

“It’s just one of those days you thought would never happen, and you thought would never happen again,” Vangunda said, noting that it did happen on a larger scale three years later in Joplin. He said the experience in 2008 helped him to be better prepared when the Joplin tornado struck, but only to a point.

“The May 22 (2011) tornado was on such a larger scope, it surpassed everyone’s expectations and abilities,” he said.

Roark said he headed to Highway 43 and Iris Road, arriving around the time the first ambulance arrived. A triage area was set up for the injured.

“It was utter chaos,” he said.

Roark said the 2008 tornado, like the 2011 tornado, was rain-wrapped. He said none of the witnesses he talked to mentioned seeing a funnel.

Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041614giregabby.jpg SLIDE SHOW: Teen with cystic fibrosis finds widespread support

    When the Nevada Show Choir performs its spring show on stage, it’s impossible to pick out the student with cystic fibrosis because there are no outward clues.
    Gabby Gire, 18, is just another performer. She sings, she dances, she smiles for the audience.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • 041914 Wedding1_72.jpg VIDEO: Cancer patient walks down aisle in wedding thrown by friends

    A year ago, Schandera Jordan was diagnosed with a rare form cervical cancer. And months after a radical hysterectomy, doctors confirmed the worst: The cancer had spread to her lungs and pancreas.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Enrollment open for Joplin summer school

    Enrollment is now open for the Joplin school district’s summer school session, which will run Wednesday, June 4, though Tuesday, July 1.

    April 19, 2014

  • r041814capbus4.jpg Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

    For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes. He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department. Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.

    April 18, 2014

  • Kansas Regents stick with social media policy

    After directing a committee to study a controversial social media policy and make recommended changes, the Kansas Board of Regents appears to not be changing the policy at all. It’s left some in academia baffled by why it appointed the work group in the first place.

    April 18, 2014

  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos