Friday, May 27, 2011

A Man's Best Friend in Joplin

Storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski followed the tornado into Joplin and was one of the first people on the scene in the immediate aftermath. Jeff's first-hand account to Adam Estes in the Atlantic of the devastation he found in Joplin is truly horrifying.
And that scene at 20th and Iowa Ave--which I'm approaching right now--in that area there were about 400 to 500 homes, and 99 percent of that neighborhood was flattened. There were no walls standing, and all I could hear was gas spewing from all the broken gas lines. I had a fire on top of the hill behind me. Homes and buildings were on fire, engulfed in flames within seconds of the tornado. And then all I heard--it sounds like thousands but it may have only been 50 people or 20 people--all I heard were screams and moans of terror. "Help me, help me!" just blood curdling screams from all over the neighborhood, and I was the first person to take my vehicle and drive over the debris, and I went as far up Iowa Street as far as I could towards the heart of the tornado. I got within about 50 yards of the first houses, and then when I walked down Iowa Street, the first thing I saw in the middle of the street--the debris was about two to three feet, two to four feet deep everywhere--I saw bodies in people's front yards. People got blown out of their houses, dead and alive. That's what I witnessed.
For three and half hours Jeff was alone on Iowa street digging people out of the rubble that was once a home. For three and half hours there were no ambulances, EMTs or firetrucks anywhere to be had. The first-responder system in Joplin was completely overwhelmed by the devastation. Finally, out of frustration, Jeff went to Facebook reporting the number of injured and killed and pleading to anyone listening that he needed at least 100 ambulances for just his location.

As Jeff was digging out two elderly women who were both confined to wheel chairs,
Right behind, them, I turned around and found a black dog. I'm about to cry--[muffled sobs] It was really bad. [speaking through the sobs] There was a black dog behind me. It looked like it wasn't injured, the dog looked fine. It kept barking. Because I have animals, I love animals, I know what's going on. He just kept backing and he was standing on top of rubble, and there was an elderly gentleman about three feet under the rubble. His owner was about three feet under the rubble, and the dog's telling me, "Help me, there's somebody here." He's barking, so I go over there. This is house after house. This is what I witnessed down Iowa Street. So I started uncovering him, and the guy was alive, not critically injured with three feet of rubble on him. Again, a 75 year-old gentleman.
As a community, how do you plan for such catastrophic events? Joplin is not exactly in the back woods. I'm a little surprised that ambulances and fire fighters under mutual aid pacts weren't pouring in.

125 firefighters from St Louis City and Country and surrounding areas, including an eight member search and rescue team from the City of St Louis and 26 St Louis County police officers headed to Joplin in the immediate aftermath.

No comments: