Sandra Birnhak via Crowdrise
May 25, 2011
A Rush to Protect Patients, Then Bloody Chaos
Published: May 23, 2011
New York Times -
JOPLIN, Mo. — When the warning — “Execute Condition Gray!” — blared through the halls of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, nurses began rolling patients’ beds into the hallways, as they had been trained to do time and again in this tornado-prone region.
But just as workers were completing the precautionary steps Sunday night, the entire nine-story building was pummeled by a tornado. Glass shards exploded from every window, doors blew open, and even patients’ IV-lines were ripped from their arms.
By the time the three-quarter-mile-wide tornado — among the deadliest in the nation’s history — moved on, the hospital was a scene of stunned chaos. Nearly every patient was splashed or covered with blood from all the glass, and people in the emergency room on the first floor were sucked out of windows into the parking lot. Even a backup generator failed, leaving ventilators and other medical equipment without power in dark rooms.
One panicked nurse, who had been in the intensive care unit, pleaded for help when machines stopped pumping air into the lungs of critically ill patients. “I’ve got patients dying up there!” Robert Kuhn, a hospital worker, recalled the nurse calling out. The doctors told him to go back and pump the air manually.
“You were on your own,” Mr. Kuhn explained.
At least 116 people were killed and hundreds more injured, city officials said Monday, as hundreds of emergency workers searched for others beneath the rubble that blanketed this southwest Missouri city. Leaders said they expected the death count to continue to rise.
The tornado, which struck around dinner time, crushed nearly a third of the city. It pounded about 2,000 buildings, knocked out power and cellphone service for many, and damaged water treatment and sewage plants. The tangled remains of cars and trucks were overturned and thrown against buildings and trees. Some blocks were jagged mounds of debris, while others were stripped to utter emptiness: just foundations of homes and tree trunks — no leaves, no branches, no bark.
The tornado did catastrophic damage to a Wal-Mart, a high school and a nursing home apartment building, and ripped through the places that exist to respond to emergencies, like a fire station, where a brick wall was crumbled over a fire truck, and the hospital, whose sign was reported to have been spotted miles from Joplin.
It was the deadliest single tornado in more than half a century, and it adds to a season of particularly deadly tornadoes. Storms in the Midwest and South have killed hundreds of people in the last two months, and left millions of dollars of damage behind.