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October 05, 2021

If Mercy Hospital looks new, that's because it is. An EF5-rated tornado destroyed St. John’s Mercy Hospital on May 22, 2011.

DUSK AND DESTRUCTION

Ten years later, the Regional Director of Facilities, Maintenance, and Operations for Mercy, Gerald Lawrence, reflects on that horrific Sunday.

He was at home, north of town when the tornado slammed the hospital. Upon arriving just a short time after the storm, he could not believe what he saw.

“The hospital was just in rubble. Cars were piled up against the hospital… they were stacked up against it, “ Lawrence said.

Lawrence had worked at that hospital since he was 18 years old. He saw doctors, nurses, and other staff immediately leap into action.

“You train for disasters. You don’t train for the hospital to be totally destroyed. You knew this wasn’t going to get put back together. It was just a really surreal feeling.”

Lawrence said they acted more heroic than ever.

 

RESPONDING IN THE AFTERMATH

He credited the federal government (FEMA) and Mercy for opening up a tent hospital within days of the destructive tornado.

“We needed to get back up as quickly as possible and help take care of the community and peoples’ needs.”

LESSONS IN REBUILDING

When crews rebuilt the hospital, they put extra measures into place:

    • Windows on the first floor can sustain winds of over 140 miles an hour

    • Windows on the second floor and up can sustain winds of more than 200 miles per hour

    • Special doors shut in the hallway to prevent it from becoming a wind tunnel

    • Hallways are hardened to prevent ceilings from falling in

    • Generators were moved away from the building, connected through a tunnel

  • Medical gases are also stored away from the main hospital building
"It should be considerably better. Things should be much better now,” Lawrence said.

STAYING ALERT AND READY

He said tornado drills take place every month on every shift throughout tornado season. Storm watches and warnings bring about a new sense of urgency amongst staff.

“There’s something about dark and warnings going off. It is a little scarier. It is a lot scarier. Those people still have a sense of urgency about it all.”

Lawrence’s message is this could happen to anyone. He stresses the importance of being weather-ready.

“Everyone should be prepared and listen.”

HONORING THE PAST

While the destruction was a lesson in tragedy, the new hospital features aspects of the old building- a way to honor those who lost their lives. The Stations of the Cross from the old hospital, scratched and beaten from the storm, stand in the new chapel. What was once shards of a stained-glass window, now are evident in flickers of amber engrained in a stairway.

On the plot of land home to the old hospital, Mercy Park flourishes with growth of new trees- a symbol of rebuilding the city of Joplin has done over the last 10 years.


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