Joplin: One Week Later

Sunday, May 29th 2011, 8:32 pm
By: News On 6

Emily Baucum, NewsOn6

JOPLIN, Missouri -- It was one week ago a deadly tornado hit Joplin crippling emergency response and damaging a major hospital.

St. John's Hospital remains in tatters. Doctors and nurses have sat on the sidelines for a week now, but Sunday they once again get to help the patients here in Joplin.

Mobilizing into action and navigating tunnels of triage units, help to create a makeshift hospital inside a reinforced tent.

"Friends, family need help. That's what goes through your mind.," said Drew Alexander with St. John's Hospital.

A military team built the facility in two days. Because Joplin looks like a war zone, the tent has been nicknamed the M.A.S.H. unit.

"We don't want to call it that but that's what the military calls it. A mobile surgical hospital," said Bill Dodson with St. John's Hospital.

The tent stands in the shadow of the wind-ravaged shell of a hospital. Those halls, littered with debris and painful memories.

"Literally dozens of people laying in gurneys," said Dr. Dave Hagedorn with St. John's Hospital. "We were without needles. We were without syringes. We were out of basic medications."

The people of Joplin have never needed medical care more, but hospital resources are stretched thin as employees become patients.

"I heard the sound of the tornado," said Jill Howard with St. John's Hospital. "The freight train sound that everyone describes."

Emergency room staffer Jill Howard has more than just emotional scars from the twister.

"I've got a gash about three inches wide and probably an inch, inch-and-a-half deep in there," says Howard.

Howard and her four sons huddled in a tiny clsoet as the tornado pulled the roof from over their heads.

"Suddenly the closet door was off its hinges and I grabbed it to keep us protected," she said. "They think it was the nails. I don't know. I didn't even know I was bleeding until my boys told me I was bleeding."

It's hard to believe anyone made it out of the house alive, but her family lived to tell the tale. Now, Howard's work family is reunited and she says, working with a renewed commitment to caring for patients and each other.

"We survived a tornado. And we're all okay," Howard says.

St. John's is prepared to stay in the facility for as long as it takes for the original hospital to be rebuilt. By the way, the tent's built to withstand substantial winds in case of even more severe weather.