Posted on 01 June 2011.
May 30, 2011
Joplin, Missouri is my “big city.” Less than 30 minutes away it has all the conveniences of any average city of 50,000 people. However on any given day that number swells to almost double since nearly 45,000 people pull off of major Interstate I-44 to gas up, eat in any number of fast food or chain restaurants up and down Rangeline Road or shop at the Northpark mall or any number of specialty shops. The interstate is the demarkation point on the south side of town and Rangeline is a major thoroughfare to the mall and Missouri Southern State University on the north side of town.
I’m really familiar with Joplin and know a lot of people there because during the years 2000 to 2004, I was the Director of Sales and Marketing for a major convention hotel located just off the Interstate. I served the community as Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Joplin Visitors and Convention Bureau and as Vice President of Soroptimists International of Joplin. Fred and I still do our main shopping there and whenever we pass St. John’s hospital I think about my mom who passed away in 2007. I spent many hours in the emergency room and hospital rooms with mom in the last years of her decline.
I’m telling you this because I felt compelled to say something about the terrible disaster that hit Joplin a week and a day ago. Fred was notified immediately when the tornado hit because he’s close to the law enforcement community serving as Director of Security for the Quapaw tribe’s Indian casino and former Undersheriff for our county. So as the horrific aftermath of the tragedy played out he kept me informed.
As many of you know, help came from everywhere to assist. It was utter chaos and communications between the responding city, county, and states with Joplin Police, Fire and Rescue did not flow which was one of the biggest problems in the moments, hours and even days after the tornado. Fred tells me that the Joplin police department has a microwave-type communication system. It’s a good system that comes in very clear and the secure channel isn’t listened-in on by the public with police scanners but that meant emergency, fire, police, sheriff, volunteers and first responders from other areas with traditional radio systems couldn’t communicate with Joplin which was the Command Center. But police, rescue and national guard performed heroic measures responding to Joplin in their hour of need. They actually ended up using “runners” like in ancient times to relay messages. It was not a way to find out weaknesses but a lesson learned for Joplin. Perhaps others will seriously look at the information that comes out of the de-briefing meetings that will surely come in time. An example of the result of communication challenges turned up a man hospitalized in the makeshift MASH-style facility at Memorial Hall was earlier identified as dead in a temporary morgue.
The makeshift morgue was set up on the outskirts of town. A warehouse was filled with several refrigerated trucks where professionals could perform the gruesome work of identifying human remains some intact some merely pieces of flesh. Police were posted on the road leading to the morgue tasked with the responsibility of keeping curiosity-seekers out especially news media. That included CNN but when they were stopped on the road by the two police officers and told to turn off their cameras and turn around, they threw a hissy fit and reporter Gary Tuchman speaking to Anderson Cooper sensationalized the incident by reporting “strange things going on,” and a “secret morgue that no one will talk about.” Tuchman goes on to say that “even the families don’t know where it is” and “they’re afraid to talk about if for fear of getting in trouble.”
The nation and the world is turning out for Joplin. Businesses and churches have already started rebuilding. It’s said that Joplin is the buckle of the “bible belt” and I agree. The long time residents of the 4-state area of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas are mostly white, conservative and christian so when Obama turned his back on Joplin and continued his european vacation we didn’t care because we knew how he really feels about us. In fact when many of us heard he would be in Joplin on sunday a week later for Memorial Day we wanted to have nothing to do with his visit. Even the press pointed out that he had little political equity to be gained here.
I wanted to go to boo him and bring protest signs. That’s what I wanted to do when I first heard he was coming but Fred said it wasn’t the time or place. I wondered where Obama would speak to the people of Joplin. Would it be on a portable stage surrounded by victims and rescuers overlooking devastation as far as the eye could see? Perhaps by St. Mary’s church mostly destroyed except for the cross that remained intact and steadfastly shining against the clear blue sky after the tornado passed.
I curiously wondered but when I found out what he ended up doing I was so angry I had to write this piece. Obama insulated himself from the community. His appearance was carefully staged and orchestrated. It was held indoors at MSSU, Missouri Southern State University, where he could use his teleprompters. His audience was comprised of students and faculty which is to be expected but when I learned who else was there the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
MSSU had set up a Volunteer Resource Center staffed by AmeriCorps. Yes, former ACORN employees, now paid members of the homeland security “professional civilian corps,”—Obama’s Brownshirts.
Word was out also that the Westboro cult would be in Joplin to protest the memorial service. Alan, our son, had suggested taking air horns to blast in the faces and ears of the cult members that showed up. Fred was in Joplin early on Sunday and called me to say there were hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles in town and they were gathering at the Sears parking lot at the mall which is one block away from MSSU. We found out later that there were over 300 bikers that came as a result of word-of-mouth alerts and spread by truckers over their CB’s.
In the parking lot of MSSU during the memorial service one person was identified as a member of Westboro and was harassed and somewhat pummeled until the police stepped in and removed him before he got more than just a torn shirt. The crowd hooped and hollered, lots of obscenities were shouted at the cult member and the revving of motorcycles filled the air. Best of all was the sound of air horns.
Photo – Devastation as far as the eye can see.
Me on the east side of St. John’s.
"The Constitution matters. The truth matters" — Terry Lakin