Joplin Public Library Is Safe amid Post-Tornado Chaos [UPDATED]

May 24, 2011

In the wake of the devastating May 22 tornado that reportedly destroyed as much as least one-third of Joplin, Missouri, killed at least 89 people [116 people as of the morning of May 24], and injured many more, Jefferson County (Mo.) Public Library Director and ALA Council member Pam Klipsch posted the following to several Missouri discussion lists and to the ALA Council list:

A hospital, several school buildings, and two fire stations are heavily damaged along with many homes and businesses. The high school graduation ceremony ended about an hour before the tornado hit, or there might have been even more injuries and deaths. The governor has issued a disaster declaration and appealed to the federal government for assistance.

We heard from the director of Joplin Public Library this morning. There are more storms today, but the library is attempting to open, with limited staff. Six, possibly seven staff members have lost their homes, one has a broken arm, and they are still trying to contact several more.

A staff member at the Carthage Public Library was in Walmart when the tornado hit; she was badly injured and her fiance and his mother were killed. This is a mostly rural area and the terrain is rugged. I’m afraid it will take a while to account for all the missing.

UPDATE: Joplin Public Library Director Jacque Fish Gage noted at noon Eastern time on the library’s Facebook page that the library is fine and “open with limited staff” until 7 p.m. Eastern due to the damage endured by the town yesterday.

UPDATE 2: Jacque Fish Gage has sent a follow-up email about the situation and how the library community can help:in a kind of nutshell:

Again, the library received NO DAMAGE. We are enough north of the storm area that our building is fine.

Of our staff, eight completely lost homes. Two others sustained significant damage. Two employees sustained minor injuries—one girl a broken arm—one guy with thousands of abrasions on his back sustained when the place in which he took shelter collapsed.

The library is open normal hours today. We still have a skeleton crew, with some just not able to find clear routes to get to the library—well, actually they could head west into Kansas and come around from the north, or east far enough to circle around and come in from the north, but other staff have had no difficulties getting in.

Yesterday library usage was virtually nonexistent, even for the computer lab. We’ve tried to get word out through the media and through every FB relief page we could find that we are open for cellphone/computer charging and have a good internet connection. Today people are beginning to come in for computer use. We have set up our laptop lab for overflow from the regular lab.

As far as library help, if the demand for computer access continues to grow, we might need some help preparing computers we have in stock to get them online. We have about 50 computers still in boxes that have arrived to replace older computers, but they are not formatted, etc. If anyone is capable of this type of activity and willing to, I can forward names to my IT person. . . . Volunteers would have to follow her directions on how she wants them set up. . . .

If any financial support is sent to me in care of JPL, I will see that affected staff received this aid. Five of the eight who lost their homes are only employed part-time, including a single mom (with a now-broken arm and no medical insurance) already struggling before this hit.

I have not personally seen the devastation except through pictures to which you all have access online. I live 40 miles north and have not a purpose to drive through the area. Despite my curiosity, I have stayed out of the way of workers. Those to whom I have spoken who HAVE seen it, say the pictures absolutely do NOT do justice to the situation. I can only fathom. The library is location on Main Street in the center of town. There are so many emergency vehicles running with lights and sirens blaring up and down Main Street, it is incredible.

On another personal note, my 24-year-old daughter was working in ER at the remaining hospital [Freeman] during the tornado. . . . What she experienced is very much akin to wartime casualties. She has not worked in the medical field enough to have developed the thick skin needed, so it was really hard for her. I only heard her describe a couple cases, and just thinking about those with having my “baby” have to deal with them, hurts a mother’s heart.

Your prayers for the city and my daughter are appreciated. I may post updates from time to time on our FB page or through the Minnesota Public Library Directors list.

Several area schools were destroyed. The May 23 Joplin Globe reported that Irving Elementary School lost part of its roof and some of its walls.

“You see pictures of World War II, the devastation and all that with the bombing. That’s really what it looked like,” Kerry Sachetta, the principal of Joplin High School, which was mangled by the tornado, told ABC-TV May 23. “I couldn’t even make out the side of the building. It was total devastation in my view. I just couldn’t believe what I saw.”

As of May 24, the Joplin School District website is offline. (On May 25, the website is back online and announcing that the remainder of the 2010–2011 academic year is cancelled.)

The campus of Joplin’s Missouri Southern State University was not damaged by the tornado; MSSU has established a relief fund for faculty, staff, and students who have suffered losses. Additionally, officials have made MSSU available as a triage center and emergency shelter, according to the university’s Facebook page.

“I haven’t heard from all of the staff yet, but several have lost their homes,” MSSU Library Director Wendy McGrane explained in an email posted to the ALA Council list May 24. “Internet, cell, and land lines are sporadic at best, so it’s been difficult to make contact. Most of town is without electricity and water.”

UPDATE 3: The Facebook page for Joplin, Missouri, is also being used to post information about missing persons, donations needed, and relief efforts.