Nightly News   |  May 23, 2011

Joplin hospitals join forces in tornado's aftermath

After a tornado roared through St. John's hospital in Joplin, MO, forcing the rapid evacuation of 183 patients, many patients were rushed to the town's only other hospital. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Joplin, Missouri): Here in this -- what's become a media compound at the hospital , the governor of this state was walking around earlier, and I grabbed him for a moment, and we talked about the job ahead for this state, what they do in what order.

Governor JAY NIXON (Democrat, Missouri): I said one more time. I mean, with seven rescues today, we still believe there are people buried below this rubble. And even though it's raining and it's thundering and lightning and these firefighters have come in from Kansas City , Task Force One from Columbia , they want one more shot to come across this area to hopefully get some other good news out of what's been a horrifically disastrous time.

WILLIAMS: Governor Nixon of the state of Missouri .

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Joplin, Missouri): Again, we're here at St. John's hospital -- Regional Medical Center , really. A landmark here in Joplin and for this area, and because of the windows blown out, because of the damage they took, it's become such an iconic picture of this, though not representative of the clear earth that this tornado left behind. What a community to take this hit. Their story tonight from NBC 's Ron Mott .

RON MOTT reporting: Trouble usually arrives at St. John's Regional Medical Center in the ER.

Dr. JIM RISCOE (St. John's Regional Medical Center): I drove up to the emergency room , the emergency room was gone.

MOTT: On Sunday trouble showed up from every imaginable direction with fury, whipping doctors, nurses and staff into a sudden frenzy of concern, then care. First moving 183 patients away from windows, next out of the building altogether.

Dr. RISCOE: The tornado was on us before we even knew it, and everybody just dived for cover under the patient beds and gurneys. I'm just amazed there was nobody seriously injured. Every single...

MOTT: Outside the hospital , cars are twisted, crumpled chunks of metal. A medical helicopter on its side, its rotor smashed into pieces. An entire glass facade was ripped off the building. The fire chief said it took just 90 minutes to evacuate the nine-story hospital .

Chief MITCH RANDLES (Joplin Fire Department): For something of this devastation, I don't think anybody can be prepared for this. The damage is so widespread, so just destructive. It's just -- it's, you know, until you see something like this, it's just hard to imagine.

MOTT: While many of the seriously wounded were transported to other area hospitals, today the walking wounded made their way to Memorial Hall where patients will be treated for now, officials say. Some patients were rushed to the town's only other hospital any way they could get there.

Dr. RISCOE: This is a very blessed medical community with two great hospitals right across the street from each other. And we've always been very competitive, but it -- this really brings out the best in people.

MOTT: A block away from the hospital , this homeowner sifted through the rubble that was his two-bedroom home, looking for clothes he can salvage for his two daughters.

Unidentified Man: You know, pants and tennis shoes. They don't have anything. But a little bit is something that'll help us.

MOTT: Tonight the help many here need has already poured in from neighboring communities in three other states, with more helping hands on the way.

Dr. RISCOE: I'm gratified and amazed at the outpouring of support from our neighbors.

MOTT: According to the Joplin Globe newspaper here, they say up to 1200 people have sought treatment for their injuries. Tonight, Brian , the community is coming together because they know this is going to be a long struggle to get back.

WILLIAMS: And, again, this insult to injury with this weather coming in, another wave of it. Ron Mott on the story unfolding behind us here at the hospital . Ron , thanks.