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Preliminary report: First May on record with no EF-3 or stronger tornadoes

(KSNF/KODE) – The Storm Prediction Center has released some surprising new statistics in its May 2021 severe weather synopsis.

The most “remarkable” statistic shows the month was the first May on record with no tornadoes that were rated EF-3 or stronger.

That’s what preliminary data is showing, at least.

Record keeping began in 1950, so this is the first May since then, across the nation, that tornadoes were on the low-end of the Enhanced Fujita scale.

However, the month saw a quantity of tornadoes.

May 2021 had 289 tornadoes across the nation, which is slightly higher than the 2011-2020 yearly average of 272.

The full report can be found on the Storm Prediction Center‘s social media.

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Will Norton Miracle Field continues the legacy of kindness and inclusion

JOPLIN, MO. — As we reflect on the events that occurred 10 years ago on May 22 in Joplin, so much has been done to make sure we never forget what happened that day.

One of those things was the creation of the Will Norton miracle field, home to the miracle league of Joplin. While it’s existence stemmed from an unthinkable tragedy, it’s since become a place of joy, unity and hope.

From afar, it may look like just a baseball field, but for members of the Joplin community, it’s so much more than that.

It’s namesake, Will Norton was one of the victims of the 2011 Joplin tornado. He was known for his kindness and his desire to make everyone he met feel welcomed and included. That’s exactly what the field reflects.

“Out here, everybody plays,” said Margie Black, whose serves on the board of directors. “Everyone gets it. There’s nothing but love on the field.”

Its a place specifically designed to accommodate those with disabilities and special needs. It’s where the miracle league of Joplin holds their baseball games. The league is for individuals with disabilities.

Black said she first got involved because of her son Scottie.

“It gave the kids a chance to play ball,” said Black. “Do something that probably typically weren’t going to get to experience. That team bonding on a field, playing ball, that social interaction, just the whole, everything that comes with playing a sport.”

That’s what drew the Shusters in. It was a chance for their daughter Kaylyn to be apart of something uniquely hers.

“Just something for her to look forward to that’s only hers,” said Angie Shuster. “I mean, other kids are doing all their sports events and other things and this is something that’s just…It’s her thing and allows her to be involved in something.”

It wasn’t just the inclusivity the Shusters loved, it was also the support and sense of community.

“This isn’t an easy life and if you don’t live it, it’s really kind of hard to explain and you don’t have to explain to anybody when you’re here because they get it,” said Mike Shuster.

While will may be gone, his spirit and everything he stood for in life lives on through the miracle league.

“To honor will in that way is I hope in some small way, brings comfort to his family,” said Black. “To know that so many people are experiencing such a joy-filled opportunity to just be like everybody else.”

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City prepares for Joplin tornado memorial run and ceremony

JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – There’s a lot of attention around Cunningham and Mercy parks at 26th and Maiden Lane, as the city of Joplin prepares to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the deadly tornado.

That included a special ceremony organized by Mercy Hospital Joplin.

Plus, tonight, around two thousand athletes are preparing for the Joplin Memorial Run tomorrow.

“Our motto is ‘Run, Remember, and Rebuild,'” says Bob Brown, Joplin Memorial Run Committee and Race MC.

Friday night, runners were lining up to pick up their run packets at Cunningham Park.

The park was lined with 161 flags with the names of all the tornado victims.

“I was talking to a lady who lost her son and I ask his name. She told me his name, and she said, ‘I wonder where his banner is.’ I said, ‘We will look for him. I cant quite see it now. They’re turned differently with the wind.’ And, about that time, his banner turned to me. It was really a touching moment for me and her,” says Brown.

The Joplin Memorial Run starts at 6:30 Saturday morning.

Across the street, Mercy Hospital Joplin held a ceremony at Mercy Park to reflect on May 22, 2011.

“It was really just that, to remember. It was to celebrate all the obstacles that we’ve overcome in those ten years with our coworkers,” says Jeremy Drinkwitz, President of Joplin Mercy Community.

The hospital held a prayer to open the ceremony and had guest speakers.

Hospital employees put markers throughout the park to signify where parts of St. Johns Regional Medical Center used to stand.

“This is just a day to say, yes, God’s grace has saved us and kept us as a healing ministry in this community and we want to continue that,” says Libby Clark, Emergency Room nurse.

Joplin is hosting a ten year remembrance ceremony at Cunningham Park starting at 3:00pm Saturday.

It is open to the public and they will read all 161 names of those who died.

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Where Hope Lives, Part 2: The 21st Century education resulting from the Joplin tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – We continue our look back at the Joplin 2011 tornado and its impact on local students.

A string of new schools have opened up for class since that devastating storm, but it wasn’t just the facilities that needed replacing.

There were countless desks, chalkboards, and textbooks missing.

A tremendous loss led to a big opportunity.

“I did kind of always think it was big and but I went here all four years in my high school so I mean I kind of got used to it along the road,” says Olivia Putney, Joplin High School Senior.

Now, Putney appreciates the benefits of a big school for her future career in early childhood education.

“I have already been offered a position at a preschool program here in Joplin, so I feel like I’ll probably work that while I’m in college, full time,” she says.

Education at Joplin High School is very different than it was before the tornado.

What had been a traditional classroom wasn’t coming back.

“People had a lot of questions about, will there be textbooks, will there be this, will there be that?” says Justin Crawford, Joplin Schools.

Joplin school leaders decided to move Joplin High School to one-to-one education, one laptop for each of the 2,200 students.

“It was gonna be a new game, we’re gonna do things differently, a lot of things that we had kind of dabbled in or tried to a little small degree but we were really all in now we’re going to use computers in the classroom we’re going to use Google Docs, you know, we’re going to work more collaboratively with students,” says Dr. Kerry Sachetta, Joplin Schools Assistant Superintendent.

They didn’t have much time to get ready, starting with the teachers.

The timeline was on fast forward compared to other districts

“When you look at integrating a one to one program in a school district, you know, they look at a two to three year implementation plan and, and this was two to three months,” says Crawford.

They built in some extra support for instructors looking at their classrooms in a whole new way.

“Hire people to help teach our teachers,” says Sachetta.

Just distributing that many laptops was a big event, and then there were the charging stations and repair shops to deal with students learning to care for their own technology.

“I think there was a huge learning curve for all of us,” says Crawford.

The changes weren’t restricted to technology, but how students learn and the right environment to encourage that.

“You know, the sliding doors to allow those open we have other open spaces as well and so every room had a projector so that things could be presented on the walls. I know that they had walls that were special paint so they can be written on and wiped off like write boards and. And so there were a lot of those different things that were taken into consideration to allow different modes and avenues of learning,” says Crawford.

Even when students went to class changed.

“We put a new bell schedule,” says Sachetta.

School leaders started making changes at the temporary school at Northpark Mall, but built on to those advances with the permanent replacement.

Unique study spaces, areas designated for group instruction outside the classroom, even a coffee shop for students to get a taste of real world.

“To try to allow kids as many opportunities to learn as they can in the different ways that they learn is exciting, is something every school should do,” says Crawford.

So, after three years and $124 million, the Eagles had a new, high-tech nest giving students a new path toward a 21st century education.

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'Take cover now!' – The three words that rang out over the city of Joplin on May 22, 2011

JOPLIN, Mo. (KSNF) – “Take cover now!” They are the words that rang out through the city of Joplin ten years ago.

We want to warn you, that some of this video could be sensitive for some viewers.

The voice on the television screen urges, “Take shelter now. It looks like this is a pretty powerful tornado.”

Former KSN weather forecaster Jeremiah Cook says, “I’ll never forget that night. You know I’ve lived here for 30 years and I’ve never seen something like that. When I see the video, there’s this sinking feeling.”

Anyone watching the television on May 22, 2011 remembers the chilling commands: “I am telling you to take cover, take cover right now. We do have a tornado on the ground. This is a tornado. This is a very dangerous situation.”

Cook recalls, “Oh my God, that’s how close I came. At first, I didn’t realize it was a tornado. I’ve seen plenty of videos of tornadoes, having gone to school, having worked in the business for as long as I had, I had seen videos of tornadoes. But it was one of those moments where, things were out of context. You know it’s easy to go back now and look and say yes that’s a tornado that was on the ground, but at the moment, I think it caught us all by surprise.”

Cook continues, “There was that what in the world is this that we’re looking at thing where you know, you don’t expect the tower cam to just come up and there’s the tornado and we transitioned into that okay, now we get everybody to take it seriously, we get people to take cover to take shelter. I think we all defaulted to it is our job to save as many people as we can. I wanted to make sure that I was there doing that for whoever needed it done for them at the moment.”

At that moment, someone he knew well needed it. KSN producer Marian Kelly was at home watching Jeremiah on TV.

“And Caitlin and Jeremiah were saying take cover now,” Kelly says.

She says it was the urgency in their voice that made her get into that crawl space.

“I could feel the air being sucked out of that crawlspace. And I thought this is how I’m going to die. And I was frankly a little surprised when it got over with and I was still alive,” Kelly says.

When asked if she credits people like Jeremiah with saving her life, she says, “Absolutely, In fact, I told them, I told Jeremiah and I told Caitlyn, I said you all saved my life. I would not have taken cover if you hadn’t used those exact words.”

“Personally, I think we did our jobs, I think we did what we were put here to do,” says Cook.

But the effects of that day – May 22nd, 2011 – still linger for both of them.

“I can’t look at it because, because it’s never not fresh,” says Kelly.

Cook says, “My wife gets on to me. And because every year around the tornado we talk about it and she’ll tell me you did everything you could you did everything you could. And I’ll tell her I can come up with 160 reasons we didn’t. When I was still predicting the weather I felt like I had to put a little more effort in every forecast I had to I had to try harder to be more on point with it. Because of that.”

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Will Norton's impact and legacy ten years after the Joplin tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – The families of 161 people still mourn the loss of loved ones.

One of those losses was Will Norton, who lost his life while driving home from his high school graduation with his father.

As his family still deals with his death, they’re comforted to know his legacy continues.

“As sad as we are, ten years later, you know, we’re sad every day, but, it does give us some peace and joy knowing that he’s left behind some goodness in this world,” says Mark Norton, Will Norton’s Dad.

One of the most visible parts of his legacy is the Will Norton Miracle field at the Joplin Athletic Complex. A baseball field where those with disabilities can play, named in Will’s honor.

“We go out there and volunteer. The kids that can go out there and play baseball that couldn’t have before and and like I say its just a beautiful for the city. We’re proud of the field and we love seeing the children out playing and having a good time and doing things. They look forward to Saturdays and I know with the last year its been tough with COVID, but this fall they’re going to start back up again and we’re anxious to come up and maybe do some volunteering. But yeah, that’s a, that’s a soft spot in our heart,” says Norton.

Then, there’s Will’s Place, which is a facility at Freeman Health System dedicated to helping children with behavioral health.

Will’s Wall, a Facebook page set up by former Kansas City Chief Kendal Gammon, who used to be a neighbor of the Norton’s.

“Our kids, we got to go to the pro games and one day he gave Will a game ball and then Will, later in life, he painted his room and put Kendal’s number 83 on the wall and had the game ball. After Will passed, Kendal hadn’t seen that and he came to the house and he walked up the stairs to the room and I think it brought Kendal to his knees. And he just said that after that, his speaking deal is who are you going to give your game ball to. Little things in life can change someone else’s life,” says Norton.

Will was accepted to attend Chapman University’s film school in California. Even though he was never able to attend, the school thought of Will as one of their students.

“When he passed, the put his name up on the wall for students and teachers that had passed. And he’s the only person that hadn’t attended there that they actually put his name on the wall for. Then they named a presidential scholarship after him, which is pretty much a full ride and that’s a fifty thousand dollar a year school,” says Norton.

A scholarship at Joplin High School was also named in his honor.

While all of this won’t bring Will back, these honors are a way for his family to remember how much he meant to those he came in contact with.

“I think Will impacted a lot of people and we’re proud of him. And, you know, these aren’t things to be celebrated. They are things to make the hurt less. And we miss him everyday,” says Norton.

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Hospital's perseverance in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado became a beacon of hope

JOPLIN, Mo. (KSNF) – When the night was still, in the middle of a pitch black abyss, a beacon of light rose above the darkness.

With one hospital incapacitated by one of the deadliest tornados ever, another did everything it could to stay functioning even though it had experienced $1.7 million in damage of its own.

The lines were blurred as doctors, nurses, and staff from Joplin’s two main hospitals came together at just one facility while hundreds of injured people lined the hallways.

“When I walked in, it was something unlike I had ever seen before,” recalls Paula Baker, Freeman Health System President & CEO.

“You prepare for it, but you’re always preparing for something that you think most likely will never happen,” says Daniel Caylor, Freeman Health System Director of Facilities Management.

Many of the medical staff to respond that fateful night knew this was going to be different.

Former Medical Oncology & Pediatric Director (current Freeman Neosho Chief Operating Officer) Renee Denton leaned over to her husband Bob, who was the former Emergency Trauma Center Director, as they made their way to the hospital that night.

“This is going to be really bad, isn’t it?” asked Renee.

Bob answered, “I said, ‘Well, we’re probably going to have to be here for a while.'”

“As far as you could see, there was people in every direction, crushing their way in, trying to get in,” says Caylor.

Bob Denton recalls, “There were people everywhere. In the front lobby, spilling into the outside parking lot, the driveways, and so forth.”

“Within about 15 minutes, we had 100 patients show up. And that tells you a great deal, when you have one patient showing up every 45 seconds, that’s something you can’t understand until you see it,” says Skip Harper, Freeman Health System Environmental Health Safety Officer.

“We did 22 life-saving surgeries within the first 12 hours. We had to access blood. We had to get all the patients triaged that were coming to the hospital. We had over 1500 people in our hospital that night,” Baker says.

Renee Denton adds, “It was shoulder to shoulder, people everywhere.”

Everyone – and they mean everyone – got right to work.

“We set up mobile surgery centers, we set up mobile triage areas. It as all about getting our team together and doing what they do best,” says Harper.

“There was emotional support being provided. There were people doing jobs that in any other circumstance, they would not have been doing,” says Renee Denton.

That includes Renee, herself who was helping her team care for even seriously injured patients in a make-shift room set up inside Freeman Health System.

She says, “I asked the incident commander, I said I think if I could take 4 or 5 of my medical nurses with me we could open up an area in the conference rooms and begin taking care of patients.”

The hospital’s now-President and CEO found herself in the temporary morgue holding the hands of those who were dying.

Baker recalls, “I didn’t want them to die without some comfort and without a human touch. And so, to sit there and hold their hand, give them (I hope) that comfort and reassurance that someone was there with them.”

Ask any of them, and they’ll tell you what they remember most that night:

“There were some horrific injuries and some that weren’t as bad, but people were surprisingly pretty quiet,” says Baker.

“It was quiet. Eerily quiet. There wasn’t people screaming, or people yelling. No, they were just in a state of shock,” says Caylor.

“We probably at one time had about 70 people in the conference rooms, 40 of which were patients, and it was as quiet as it is in this room right now,” says Caylor.

Step outside and you might have heard the hum of the hospital’s generators instead.

The Director of Facilities and his team made sure the hospital stayed running in the night.

“That night it was so dark in Joplin because the electricity was out in this whole end of town. But, we glowed in the night from our generator power,” says Baker.

“I remember being up on the tower and looking out over the entire city of Joplin, and it was completely black. But yet, here Freeman was lit,” says Caylor.

“When we were glowing through that dark, dark night, we know that was a Beacon of Hope for people. We knew they’d see the light of Freeman and know that we’re here for them and we’re going to be there for them throughout the duration of this catastrophe,” says Caylor.

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Disaster preparedness the focus of discussion at Joplin event

JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – Officials with Ozark Center and Show-Me Hope put the focus on emergency preparedness tonight in Joplin.

“Ready in Three” is a training course involving a three-step program.

It recommends having a plan of action for you and your family, as well as an emergency kit consisting of sturdy shoes, a hard hat, silver blanket and personal hygiene items.

Folks are also urged to have a battery powered radio so they can listen for important information.
Training instructors say preparing now can help reduce stress before, during and after an emergency.

“What we find is that being prepared brings peace of mind. If you’re prepared for any disaster — it can be a flood, a tornado, it can be a fire, an ice storm, power outage, it can be a terrorist event or a mass shooting — It doesn’t necessarily have to be a (natural) disaster. So, we just say emergency preparedness brings peace of mind,” says Debbie Fitzgerald, Director of Crisis Services at Ozark Center.

Fitzgerald says it’s also important for families to conduct periodic emergency drills with their children at home.

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How the city became "Joplin Strong" after the May 2011 tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. (KODE) – When the EF-5 tornado swept through Joplin in 2011, the focus at city hall changed in an instant.

It was “All Hands on Deck” in a search effort and a commitment to recover. Some of those programs even continue today.

“I heard the crack of glass breaking out of the windows around us. And then we started getting telephone calls,” says Gary Shaw, Joplin City Council.

Shaw quickly learned his city had sustained serious tornado damage.

It wasn’t long before he got a firsthand view of just how bad it was during a ride along the path of destruction with a Joplin police officer.

“And I thought I was in another world. I mean I thought I was someplace else, it certainly wasn’t Joplin. And none of those landmarks that we knew,” says Shaw.

He knew there was a lot of work to be done, both for city leaders and city workers.

Emergency responders combing through the destruction for survivors and victims, plus a massive cleanup to get rid of nearly three million cubic yards of debris.

Shaw recalls, “It was amazing to watch the streets being cleared and the properties been cleared. Yeah, there was some challenges, you know.”

One of the issues was how to let tornado survivors the next step in the recovery and what help was available.

“Obviously, people did not have a TV, they didn’t have a house in some cases, they may not have a car to listen to a radio. So we needed to find ways to reach out to people,” says Lynn Onstot, Joplin City PIO.

An emergency operations center was the headquarters for all the decision making.

They had staged mock disasters in the past, so there was a game plan, but the sheer magnitude of the destruction caused unforeseen issues.

“We didn’t have enough phone lines; we didn’t have enough computers, you know our IT department kicked into gear,” says Onstot.

It wasn’t always what to do, but sometimes what not to do: like a circus volunteering elephants for the clean up.

Onstot says, “So my news release said you know circus animals are not condoned to do debris removal, even though they’re offered and we appreciate everybody’s help. Just was not a good idea.”

Finding shelter for homeless survivors was crucial, both in the short term and more permanent sites.

City workers coordinated with FEMA to install 586 temporary housing units just weeks after the storm.

“It was a it was an area where there was a bunch of motorhomes set in place and people could stay there,” says Shaw.

New construction also went under the microscope, with the city looking was strategies reinforce future homes and businesses.

That included requiring hurricane clips to keep the roof on a structure in high winds.

Councilman Shaw says, “There was importance in making sure we had things like those clips.”

There were also much bigger decisions to make, with $158 million in federal disaster grants leading to a new library, Joplin Senior Center, 20th Street overpass, and significant infrastructure upgrades.

“And our pipes are all worn out. A lot of the lot of our streets and things we’re wearing one so we end up with a third of our city being rebuilt, you know, and with help from money that we wouldn’t have had ourselves, you know,” says Shaw.

Ten years later, Shaw still mourns the 161 lives lost to the storm, but sees a bright future ahead for Joplin.

He says, “We have a great city, and you know I made a statement several times lately that I believe Joplin’s greatest days are ahead of us.”