Relief and rebuilding in Joplin

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A view of the destruction from 24th Street, between Kentucky and Grand streets.

The night started as one of celebration, as more than 450 seniors received their diplomas from Joplin High School on May 22. A light rain interrupted snapshots of new graduates and forced them to leave the open lawn of Missouri Southern State University for the shelter of their cars. Moments later, the day’s joy and happiness turned into chaos as a deadly EF-5 twister ripped through the southwestern Missouri town.

Randy Ganz, CE’78, president and CEO of Dewitt & Associates in Springfield, Mo., was at his son’s house in Iowa when his phone “lit up like crazy.” Hearing about the devastation, he quickly worked with his senior project managers to gather a team and supplies — truckloads of plywood lumber, light-stand generators, and “anything that we thought we’d need that night.”

Communications were down to next to nothing. “People didn’t understand the real magnitude,” Ganz says.

Mercy-St. John’s Regional Medical Center, a nine-story building, took a direct hit, blowing out windows, tossing gurneys and mangling cars. Just a half mile away, Freeman Health Systems had lost part of its roof but was still functioning despite the pouring rain.

“We worked to get the roof under control, but we had several of our people doing nothing but transporting and carrying the injured to areas to receive emergency care,” Ganz says. “This literally went on for hours as vehicles bringing the injured were lined up three blocks long. As darkness approached, the only lights visible for miles were from the generators at Freeman and the light towers that we had brought to the site.”

The rising sun on Monday morning revealed the full extent of the twister’s wrath. One-third of the town was gone. With the light of dawn came a call for help from Mercy-St. John’s. Ganz and his team responded, securing sensitive information and equipment and placing 8,000 feet of fencing around the entire hospital.

Monday also brought with it hundreds of volunteers from around the state, including S&T freshman Sean Brady and his father, Ric, of Camdenton, Mo. The destruction they saw along Rangeline Road, Joplin’s main drag, was indescribable.

The pair unloaded their Bobcat and got to work — turning cars right-side up, removing trees and debris, and even locating an elderly man’s medication and money from underneath a massive pile of rubble. “I will never be the same,” Sean Brady says of the experience.

“People didn’t understand the real magnitude.”

While Brady and his dad were moving rubble, others from Missouri S&T were on their way to Joplin, bringing supplies like water and juice to the Red Cross. Among them were Haitham Shtaieh, who works for Chartwells, the university’s food service provider, and Mohammed Debree of Libya, a graduate student in engineering management.

After their first trip, the volunteer team grew to include members of the newly formed Islamic Help of North America (IHNA), which assists people who are in need, and S&T’s Muslim Student Association. The now 10-member group returned to Joplin that Wednesday with more supplies.

“We have had up to 20 volunteers — mostly students from Rolla, Kansas City and St. Louis,” says Ranga Voona of India, a graduate student in mechanical engineering.

“Thanks to the efforts of many generous and hard-working volunteers and non-profit organizations involved, some fast-paced work is going on in Joplin. We all hope it gets back to normal as soon as possible.”

Fierce tornadoes
In another part of the state, Richard T. Bradley, CE’88, dealt with another tornado, the one that hit St. Louis on Good Friday, April 22, 2011, just weeks before the disaster in Joplin.

“The damage at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was shocking to see on TV, but nothing close to what I saw when I got out there,” says Bradley, president of the St. Louis Board of Public Service, the city’s chief engineer, and the airport’s former assistant director of planning and engineering. “It was like a scene out of a movie that you just couldn’t imagine was real. I’m still amazed that there were only a few minor injuries.”

“It was like a scene out of a movie that you just couldn’t imagine was real. I’m still amazed that there were only a few minor injuries.”

With power off, water coming in throughout the building and significant structural damage, Bradley led a preliminary detailed damage assessment of the facility and mobilized city and airport staff, contractors and consultants to begin immediate cleanup and repairs to get the airport in order and reopened.

Bradley credits his training for helping guide him through the process. “Engineering teaches you the principles, but it also teaches you to think on your feet and make the best possible decision you can for the situation you are given,” he says.

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