Archive for Natural Disaster

The Reality of the Unimaginable…We Will Rebuild

Note: Information taken from a media report given by St. John’s Regional Medical Center administrative personnel, emails sent to this editor, letters sent to Sisters of Mercy communities, and Mercy websites, including Mercy Health System.

It has been a time of unimaginable suffering, death and devastation in the wake of a series of tornados that have swept through the Midwest and the Plains. But in the aftermath, plans for the future already are emerging.  For St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin the Sisters of Mercy Health System, which holds responsibility for the medical center, has already announced it will rebuild.   St. John’s was evacuated after it took a direct, devastating hit from the tornado that tore through Joplin on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Despite the heroic efforts of St. John employees, five patients and one unidentified visitor lost their lives.

The President and CEO of St. John’s shared plans for a 60-bed mobile hospital that he said would be in place within the week in Joplin.  It will offer a full array of services including emergency, surgery, imaging, lab and inpatient care. It will be able to withstand 100 mile-per-hour winds.  The mobile hospital opened on May 29, one week after the disastrous tornado ripped through Joplin and directly hit the medical center.  Longer-term plans for the hospital are being discussed, and a board meeting was held during the week after the tornado to continue the planning effort.  One board member’s reflection is at the end of this article.

The Sisters of Mercy came to this community in 1885 and opened the hospital in 1896. They’ve been through hard times before – perhaps nothing quite on the magnitude of this – but their commitment and that of their co-workers at St. John’s remains strong.

St. John’s is also committed to its 2,800 employees. A command center has been established to provide information and assistance these workers. Many will be needed to carry on the work of St. John’s in the community, and positions, in the meantime, will be available to some employees at other hospitals and clinics in the Mercy health system in the surrounding area.  “We are committed to helping as many employees as possible continue with St. John’s or the larger Mercy health system,” Britton added.

Other sites of service that are open and operating include Mercy Express Care and Mercy Clinic locations in Webb City, Carthage and Neosho. Physicians and other caregivers whose offices were damaged or destroyed are rotating through these locations, and plans are underway to find additional sites of service.  The medical center’s electronic health record system, which was implemented in Joplin less than a month ago, will go back online, connecting the mobile hospital and all Mercy health system sites of service.

St. John’s is a 370-bed hospital, which sustained significant damage, and may not be salvageable.  Structural engineers have been examining the building will provide a report within a week. Mercy Village, a 60-unit senior housing development, also sustained substantial damage and was evacuated.  No residents were harmed.  Renovations to the building have been estimated to take eight months.  Residents will not be able to return until this time.  McAuley High, another, long-time Sisters of Mercy ministry, was not damaged and is being used as a triage center.

Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Associates residing in Joplin, MO, were not injured, though like many others, their homes were damaged and they are living with friends, family, or in Mercy community houses.

This photo  shows the only thing on the Joplin hospital campus that was untouched by the tornado.  Additional images of the destruction can be viewed at the health system’s album at  



One Board Member’s Reflection: 

On June 26, 2011 a special board meeting was held in Joplin to update all members of the board on the status and activities related to St. John’s Regional Medical Center. The meeting was very informative and very emotional for those who were telling the story. The stories are a source of pride for me — the stories of the heroes and heroines…Stories abound on the way they were able to focus on the patients in the face of these great odds, and in the face of uncertainty of the condition of their own families and homes…

Following the board meeting we went to the site to meet with local, State and Federal visitor’s deputy directors of HUD and Home land Security, Senators of Missouri and other state officials. This was their first stop in the several hours that they spent in Joplin.  I understand this is the group that precedes the Presidential visit and determines where and what the President will see.  [President Obama visited Joplin on Sunday, May 29].

Following this we continued our tour of the St. John’s campus. Even after having seen the pictures and listening to the news, reality is much more shocking. It was only by miracles that anyone came out of that building alive. The staff evacuated the building in the pitch dark with use of flash lights and cell phones to light their way and within 90 minutes they had evacuated 183 patients.  One of the engineers told us that after seeing the ruble and debris in the hallways, “I don’t know how they got through them to get patients out.” He described conditions in the stairwells as being full of sheet rock from the walls and every other thing imaginable.  He said even interior walls are moved and it is difficult to determine what was in that space previously.

The most remarkable story that I heard was immediately following the evacuation they had a strong smell of gas and were telling people to get as far away from the building as possible for fear of explosion.  People were running away, but some of the employees were running toward the building to see if there was anyone else who needed rescue.

We then went to Memorial Hall where health care is being provided.  They are seeing over 200 patients a day.  The spirit and organization of this make shift ministry site is most remarkable.  I spoke with people waiting to be seen and they expressed gratitude for being able to receive care, very humbling.  We continued our tour by car of the devastation.  On Range Line Road the businesses are flattened for about a mile there are not many walls standing. One cannot even determine what business was there.

We made our way to St. John’s command center which is set up at the John Q Hammons Conference Center.  Absolutely amazing work is going on here.  Every kind of assistance that St. John’s employees need is being provided, enough to keep body and spirit together and to provide a glimmer of hope.  It also serves as a gathering place where they can meet and be with others from their department or from the hospital.  These reunions are absolutely awesome.  Those who are working, providing service at the Center are so wonderful, they listen to heartbreaking story after heart breaking story, and they pray, they weep, they laugh, they offer assistance and they keep going. Co workers from across the ministry are there offering their compassionate love and support.  Mercy in action brings tears to my eyes hour after hour.

Plans are underway for a Celebration of Hope at the Missouri Southern University on June 12th at 3:00 p.m. The intention is to get together with co-workers, civic partners and first responders to mourn losses, to turn to the future and plans for where we are going.

Please accept my poor efforts at sharing some of this experience with you.  Really it is beyond words and the reality is so much worse than the pictures, this is merely a brush at my effort to share yesterday’s experience with you.

Please continue to hold this community in prayer, the suffering is immense, the spirit is bold and there is hope in the air.  The preliminary steps to rebuilding are underway.


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JAPAN: Fukushima is a call to action in our work to stop nuclear weapons, nuclear power

Except of article by Bud Ryan, Pax Christi New Mexico co-coordinator

We have all seen the devastation caused to the people of northern Japan from the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. As if that weren’t enough, they then suffered the failure of their nuclear power station at Fukushima. So the question to us is: how do we turn such a horrible tragedy into something good? The answer is that we work to make sure that NO new nuclear power plants are built in our country or around the world; that we work to invest heavily in true “green power” – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal power, etc; and that we begin to take our current nuclear power plants offline as true “clean energy” plants are built to replace them.

Read full article here.

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Haiti: ‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This’

By Michael Hill

You pull your car into the parking lot of the Petionville Club in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and you find yourself in front of the impressive patio of the main clubhouse. Walk up a stairway, there are benches and tables and a fine outdoor bar.  “It’s a private club,” says Catholic Relief Services President Ken Hackett. “It’s nice.”

Celestin Estana receives a food voucher from CRS. She and her four children are living at the Petionville golf course. At night, the camp swells to close to 80,000 people. Walk a little further and there’s the club’s swimming pool. Go a little further, take a right and you are on the first tee of the club’s golf course. It’s there that the view changes a bit. A few U.S. soldiers lounge around one of their trucks. A few more soldiers stand along the fairway, one with a machine gun, the rest unarmed.

‘An Amazing Sight’

“Then you turn and look down the hill and you see it, thousands and thousands and thousands of people, under all sorts of shelters and tents, packed in, their voices rising up the hillside,” Hackett says. “It’s an amazing sight.”

Hackett took a brief trip to Haiti for the January 23 funeral of Port-au-Prince’s archbishop, Joseph Serge Miot, and vicar general Charles Benoit, held on the grounds of Port-au-Prince’s Notre Dame cathedral. The quake destroyed the cathedral and took the lives of Miot and Benoit. Hackett accompanied representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and CRS board chairman, who was a celebrant at the funeral Mass.

After the two-hour service, Hackett visited sites where CRS is helping Haitians, including the Petionville Club. There he found about 50,000 people whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake. They came to the open spaces of this golf course looking for a safe place to live as aftershocks shook the capital city. In the absence of formal camps for the displaced, it would have to do.

Working with U.S Army airborne units, which are providing logistical support and security, CRS has fed thousands of people on the golf course. But it’s only the beginning. Much more food is being brought in. A camp survey will help assure the distribution is equitable.

Living in the Streets

“Some water is finally getting there. Oxfam is trying their best to do that,” Hackett says. “And we’re going to have to do something about sanitation.”

On this visit—his 10th to Haiti, he estimates—Hackett saw firsthand the challenges that CRS and other aid organizations face. “I’ve been in other earthquake zones, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” he says. “Buildings are destroyed everywhere you look, though now and then you come upon one that looks fine. That’s the nature of earthquakes.

“When you drive along the streets, you weave among the piles of rubble. You see young boys with just a regular household hammer pounding on concrete rubble that’s the remains of their home,” Hackett says. “Others are coming out of a damaged apartment, maybe carrying a sofa they have salvaged. And other people will be working on a car that’s crushed beneath the rubble, trying to take off a few parts that they can sell.”

Samora Bwiesa was on the third floor when her house collapsed in the January 12 Haiti earthquake. She is being cared for at St. Francois de Sales hospital. “The streets are full of people because that’s where they are living,” he says. “They close them down at night so people can sleep there.”

Caring for the Wounded

Hackett also went to the St. Francois de Sales hospital, or what is left of it. CRS helped get the hospital stocked up and running. “At one end is the maternity ward, crashed down. On one side is the X-ray building, crashed down. On the other is the operating facility, crashed down,” he says. “They surround this courtyard, which is full of people. Those are the patients.  “They are doing operations right there, out in the open,” he says. “They told me they had done 80. I was talking to a medical team from Belgium. There are several others there.”

Hackett noted that the AIDS Relief consortium, which includes CRS and the University of Maryland, had been working with St. Francois before the earthquake. “They had just arranged a partnership between Maryland and St. Francois,” he says. “Doctors from here were going there and doctors from there were coming here. Now this. Some of the top people at St. Francois thought they should just shut down, but others thought they could keep going.  I’m glad we helped them do that.  Many lives have been saved because of that.  “But it’s sad because there are still bodies under the rubble of that hospital, including nurses and babies in that maternity section,” he says.

‘So Much Needs to Be Done’

Hackett says CRS was able to provide immediate help in part because much of our staff was located in Les Cayes, away from the earthquake’s epicenter. Relatively unaffected by the quake, they came to Port-au-Prince and went to work. CRS had also supplies already in place in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which were brought in and distributed.

“So much needs to be done,” he says. “The destruction is so immense. Whatever you do, you have to listen to the Haitians. It might make sense sitting in Geneva or somewhere to build a nice camp with good water and sanitation 100 miles away from Port-au-Prince, but it could turn out no one wants to go there because they have jobs in the city. Even if their homes are destroyed, that’s where they are going to stay.

“You have to figure these things out,” Hackett says. “It’s a lot of work and it’s only just started. We’ve been in Haiti for 55 years and we’ll be there for a long time in the future.”

Michael Hill is CRS’ communications officer for sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at the agency’s headquarters in Baltimore.

For more information, visit Catholic Relief Services’ website at

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