Radio Amateurs Assist American Red Cross, Served Agencies During Joplin Storm
On Sunday, May 22 at 5:41 PM (CDT), the single deadliest twister in almost 60 years -- and the second major tornado disaster in less than a month -- swept through the southwestern Missouri city of Joplin, slamming straight into St John’s Regional Medical Center. The tornado killed 117 people. As soon as the storm cleared, area Amateur Radio operators responded to requests from the American Red Cross and local hospitals to help provide communications support.
“On Sunday, right after the tornado hit, I received a call from the American Red Cross office in Springfield, asking for radio support,” ARRL Missouri Section Emergency Coordinator Ken Baremore, W0KRB. “I contacted Greene County Emergency Coordinator William Gilmore, KC0TCF, and asked him to join me in Springfield. We got there at 9 PM and used a newly installed 2 meter beam to talk to the Joplin repeater, establishing communications between the two American Red Cross offices. Cell phone coverage was spotty at best, but mostly non-existent, and the circuit was overloaded most of the time. We left about 12:30 AM.”
Officials evacuated long-term patients from the city’s other medical center, Freeman Health System, to make room for emergency cases from the tornado, said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. That hospital treated 465 patients, including 11 who died, the hospital said in a statement. A Freeman Health System hospital in nearby Neosho, Missouri, treated 39 people, the hospital said. Patients from St John’s were taken to hospitals in Springfield and Northwest Arkansas.
“Sometime late Sunday evening, we received a call from Freeman Hospital, requesting assistance to help provide communications support,” Baremore said. “Using Amateur Radio, we provided communications between Freeman Hospital in Joplin to the hospitals in Springfield, as the tornado took down phone lines and cell towers. Springfield is about 70 miles east of Joplin. Members of the Southwest Missouri Amateur Radio Club (SMARC), along Christian County Emergency Coordinator Pat Conway, WA6GJM, helped out with this, using mobile radios set up just inside the doors of the hospital. John Howard, K0VET, activated the Missouri Emergency Services Net (MESN) and it was up until 11 PM Monday night. It ended up steering a lot of people to the proper website for health and welfare messages. By 9 AM Monday, the hospital no longer needed radio amateurs to provide communications support and we were released.” Baremore said that radio amateurs are still on standby status to provide communications support between the American Red Cross offices in Springfield and Joplin.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Jasper County Assistant Emergency Coordinator Chris Wilson, N0CSW, helped set up communications between the shelter and the American Red Cross office in Joplin.
On Tuesday, Newton County Emergency Coordinator LaVerne Wilson, NQ0B, together with Lawrence County Assistant Emergency Coordinator Katherine Parker, KD0ETX, and District D Assistant District Emergency Coordinator Cecil Higgins, AC0HA, provided some additional relief to the operators
According to SATERN National Director Major Patrick McPherson, WW9E, the Kansas and Western Missouri SATERN Team was activated for the Joplin storm. “SATERN will assist with communications in the affected area. The MO-KAN Division SATERN began running nets on 75 meters at 3.920 on Tuesday at 9 AM, 3 PM and 9 PM to support the operation. The nets will continue every day until further notice. SATERN Central Territorial Coordinator Bill Shillington, W9ZCL, and SATERN Associate Central Territorial Coordinator Ken Panczyk, W9KMP, have been dispatched to the tornado scene to assist in the general response.”
Qualified SATERN members in SATERN’s MIDLAND and MO-KAN Divisions who wish to help should send information via e-mail to SATERN Kansas State Coordinator June Jeffers, KB0WEQ. Currently, SATERN is scheduling operators for Joplin through June 1. According to Jeffers, no out-of-division operators are being used at this time.
The National Weather Service has determined the twister packed top winds of more than 200 miles per hour, making it an EF5 -- the highest rating given on the enhanced Fujita scale -- said Bill Davis, the meteorologist who reviewed the damage. The tornado was given a preliminary rating of EF4 on Monday. He said that the tornado left "about six miles of total destruction" in its wake, and that examinations of some of the buildings destroyed or damaged convinced forecasters to raise the designation, he said. According to Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency, the tornado grew to as wide as three-quarters of a mile at one point.
Forecasters said severe weather would probably persist all week. Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma could see tornadoes through Tuesday, and the bad weather could reach the East Coast by Friday. The twister that hit Joplin was one of 68 reported across seven Midwest states over the weekend. One person was killed in Minneapolis and another in Kansas, but Missouri took the hardest hits.
The Joplin tornado was the nation’s deadliest single twister since a June 1953 tornado in Flint, Michigan. Unlike the multiple storms that killed more than 300 people last month across the South, Joplin was smashed by just one exceptionally powerful twister.