Monday, May 23, 2011

Joplin, Missouri, Tornado: Minneapolis, Too

The Lemming isn't about to start a 'disaster blog,' full of bad news and angst.

What happened in Missouri yesterday, though, is quite unusual. Also tragic and sobering.

The Lemming plans to do a fluffier post next. Maybe a picture of a cute gerbil or something.

Joplin, Missouri: Worst Twister Since 1953

"Tornado devastates Joplin, Missouri, leaves 89 dead"
Kevin Murphy, Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 23, 2011)

"A monster tornado nearly a mile wide killed at least 89 people in Joplin, Missouri when it tore through the heart of the small Midwestern city, ripping the roof off a hospital and destroying thousands of homes and businesses, local officials said on Monday.

"U.S. weather officials said the tornado that hit at dinnertime on Sunday may have been the single deadliest in the country since 1953...."

"...More than 500 people were confirmed injured, many with massive internal injuries, officials said. The number of dead and injured was expected to climb as rescue workers dig through collapsed homes and businesses...."

"...The city's residents were given about 20 minutes notice when 25 warning sirens sounded throughout the southwest Missouri town around 6 p.m. CDT, said Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammers.

"But the governor said many people likely were unable to get to shelter in time. "The bottom line was the storm was so loud you probably couldn't hear the sirens going off." He declared a state of emergency and called out the Missouri National Guard to help...."

Folks living in other parts of the world might wonder if the Missouri governor is making excuses, or exaggerating. The Lemming doesn't think so. Warning sirens here in the American Midwest are loud. But so are the storms. Particularly since folks aren't likely to step outside in high winds, driving rain, and hail to listen - the Lemming thinks it's quite unlikely that some of the folks simply didn't hear the sirens.

As for not being able to get out of the way?

Buildings in Minnesota and the Dakotas - the parts the Lemming's been in, anyway - generally have basements. The Lemming, for example, lives in what used to be a farmhouse: and we've designated part of the basement as our storm shelter. It's a smallish room with field stone walls on three sides: not tornado-proof, maybe; but the Lemming thinks it's tornado-resistant.

Not all folks in the Midwest have built like that, or been able to. Soil conditions, economics, and the occasional daft development decision are factors. In the Lemming's opinion.

The death toll in Missouri - the Lemming's heard that it's 90, but hasn't verified that - is unusually high these days.

Weather Satellites, Radar, Tornadoes, and the 'Good Old Days'

"Factbox: Deadliest single tornadoes in U.S. history"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 23, 2011)

"The Joplin tornado is the deadliest single twister since Worcester, Massachusetts in June 1953.

"Here is a list of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history:

"1. Mar 18, 1925 Missouri/Illinois/Indiana; 695 dead

"2. May 6, 1840 Natchez, Mississippi; 317 dead

"3. May 27, 1896 St. Louis, Missouri; 255 dead..."

Of the 21 storms listed, one is this weekend's Joplin, Missouri, tornado; three were in 1953:
  • May 11, 1953 Waco, Texas
    • 114 dead
  • June 3, 1953 Flint, Michigan
    • 115 dead
  • June 9, 1953 Worcester, Massachusetts
    • 90 dead
The others happened in the first half of the 20th century, or before.

One reason that the Lemming doesn't miss the 'good old days' is that the Lemming remembers when life was 'simpler and more tranquil.'

That was before:
  • Weather satellites kept an eye on global weather patterns
  • Radar showed what was happening inside clouds
  • Meteorologists worked with
    • Massive amounts of data
    • Powerful software
  • Weather forecasts were
    • Pretty good for the next 24 hours
    • Good-enough for the next five days
The warning sirens help, too, in the Lemming's opinion.

Is the system we've got in America perfect? Obviously not. About 90 people were killed in Joplin last evening. Folks have to notice the warnings, be able to move fast enough, and have a hardened shelter to move to.

The Lemming thinks that folks will never have a 'perfect' system. Not while the universe is the way it is now. It's just not in the nature of things.

We can, however, learn what didn't work, what did, change what needs changing, and get ready for the next emergency. In the Lemming's opinion.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis

"2 Dead, Minneapolis Tornado Devastates North Side"
Mike Durkin, FOX 9 News (May 23, 2011)

"A north Minneapolis tornado killed one person and injured 31 others Sunday, while displacing hundreds of residents and leaving their neighborhoods in ruins. A second person died during the cleanup efforts.

"One person was killed when a tree smashed through a window of their minivan during the storm. Two others were seriously injured in separate incidents. North Memorial Medical Center saw 31 patients following the storm, admitting two -- a pregnant woman who was evaluated and released, and an 83-year-old who was treated for asthma-related breathing difficulties.

"The second tornado-related death was a man who brought his chainsaw next door to help his neighbor, despite having his own home destroyed in the storm. According to family members, 52-year-old Rob MacIntyre collapsed from either a heart attack or stroke. He had no underlying health problems.

"At least 100 homes were significantly damaged on the city's north side, but downed power lines remain one of the biggest public safety concerns. To keep the public safe, all exits off Interstate 94 to downtown Minneapolis are closed, and a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will remain in effect for several days....

"...About 200 northsiders displaced by the tornado are staying at the Northeast Minneapolis Armory and are receiving food and medical care, along with assistance of mental health professionals and the police chaplain service. You can help tornado victims by donating at .

"Patrick Henry High School, North High School and Folwell Middle School are also open for shelter and clean water....

"...Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was joined by Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Keith Ellison and other city leaders on a tour of tornado damage Monday morning. Rybak made a plea for employers to remain flexible in the wake of the storm. He said many people at the shelters overnight were worried about getting to work, on top of having no home or car....

"..Xcel energy says 22,000 customers in the Twin Cities lost power at the height of Sunday's storm, with mos of the outages in Brooklyn Center, Fridley, Golden Valley and north Minneapolis. Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said about 10,000 customers were still without power Monday morning....

"...There were reports of looting in north Minneapolis in the wake of the storm, but the only confirmed case of looting was at Broadway Liquor Outlet, where cash, cigarettes and liquor were stolen...."

The article says that emergency responders were going block by block through the wreckage, looking for gas leaks and downed power lines, and checking for structural damage.

Considering what happened down in Missouri, Minnesota's storm was comparatively minor. Still, there's a huge mess to clean up.

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(Heidi Bergdahl, via FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(Nathan Robinson, via FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

Now, the Lemming's off to find some nice, breezy item.

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