Special Reports

Rescue workers, ambulances, aid sent to Joplin

Sue Jasperse won’t be showing up for her part-time job Wednesday. Instead, she’ll be part of a Kansas City-area army of help that moved swiftly to rescue, treat and aid tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.

On Monday night, the 77-year-old retired nurse was heading south in a mobile medical clinic from Heart to Heart International. The 36-foot-long vehicle — in a former life, a construction trailer — has two exam rooms and a pharmacy area where volunteers will treat basic injuries and illnesses and refer more serious cases to hospitals.

“What we’re basically trying to do is fill a void in health care down there,” said Jasperse, a Prairie Village resident who volunteered after Hurricane Katrina and the Greensburg, Kan., tornado.

Scores of Kansas City-area police officers, firefighters, paramedics and medical workers were dispatched to Joplin on Sunday and Monday. Charities, utility crews and even animal rescue groups galvanized to pitch in.

Search and rescue teams from area police and fire departments — big and small — hit the road. Fifty firefighters from the Kansas City Fire Department left within 3½ hours of the tornado Sunday night to conduct grid searches in the ravaged city.

“Our task force is assigned to multiple square blocks. We are going building by building conducting searches and moving heavy debris to see if any victims can be found and treated,” said Chief Smokey Dyer.

The Harrisonville Police Department planned to send six officers Monday who will work in teams of two, said Lt. Wayne Schraml. First, Police Chief John Hofer made a quick trip to the store to pick up shovels, gloves and other items.

Kansas City police sent about 30 officers to help, including a squad of traffic officers, two tactical teams and three workers who will help with radio communication. Maj. Robin Houston, who is a member of a canine search and rescue organization, also took her specially trained dog to Joplin.

Approximately 140 Missouri National Guardsmen also were assisting in search and rescue missions.

Dozens of local ambulances headed south. Even retirement community John Knox Village in Lee’s Summit dispatched an ambulance and a three-member crew.

Emergency workers weren’t the only helpers. Missouri Gas Energy, which serves most of the natural-gas customers in Joplin, on Monday started sending extra crews from the area to deal with emergencies and begin the long-term job of rebuilding part of the city’s infrastructure, said MGE spokesman Jason Fulp.

About 60 KCP crew members will drive to Joplin today to assist, too.

Cell phone coverage in the Joplin area was spotty, so Sprint, AT and Verizon Wireless sent mobile cell towers to restore service. They also were using generators to restore power to cell towers and get them running again.

Animal rescue teams from Wayside Waifs in Kansas City, Spay Neuter Kansas City and No More Homeless Pets KC and Animal Haven, both in Merriam, showed up to help.

Charities geared toward humans mobilized, too, of course. The Salvation Army sent four mobile feeding kitchens, each capable of serving 2,000 meals a day to relief workers and victims.

The Salvation Army also set up two mobile feeding kitchens — one stationary and the other roaming — to serve meals, snacks and cold drinks to more than 250 people in Reading, Kan. That city was nearly demolished by a tornado late Saturday.

Jasperse, the nurse from Prairie Village, went to Joplin with Heart to Heart International’s mobile health clinic. The Olathe-based group also sent a team of medical volunteers to Joplin Sunday night.

The mobile health clinic has a waiting room, a scrub station and two exam rooms.

Beyond the medical care, Jasperse expects that she’ll be doing a lot of listening. People who survive major disasters need to talk about what has happened to them. “One big thing people need in this situation is for people to listen to them,” Jasperse said.


A Riverside police officer was injured Monday by lightning while helping with rescue and recovery efforts in Joplin, Riverside Public Safety said.

The officer, 31, was being treated at a hospital there with “significant” injuries. He was standing next to an all-terrain vehicle when lightning struck the ground next to him.

The injured officer, who was not named but who has worked in Riverside more than four years, is one of four Riverside police officers in Joplin. The city also sent six public-works staffers and two firefighters to help with recovery.

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