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St. John's Regional Medical Center owner Mercy said the health system would rebuild in Joplin. Structural engineers are examining the center to determine if it is salvageable.
St. John's Regional Medical Center owner Mercy said the health system would rebuild in Joplin. Structural engineers are examining the center to determine if it is salvageable.

Businesses dig out from Joplin tornado

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In the wake of the May 22 Joplin tornado that claimed at least 125 lives and left a scar through the heart of the city’s south side, Joplin residents and businesses are working now to recover and rebuild. Many in Springfield also have stepped up to help their western neighbors and colleagues.

Several businesses that serve the Springfield and Joplin markets are dealing with the aftermath of the EF-5 twister that National Weather Service officials said was three-quarters of a mile wide and on the ground for seven miles. State officials have estimated that roughly 8,000 residential and commercial structures were damaged or destroyed.

Businesses that were partially or completely destroyed by the tornado include Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Papa John’s, Dillon’s Supermarket, Commerce Bank, Academy Sports, Walgreens, Kum N Go, Arby’s and St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

Disaster brings federal aid
Karen Thomas, president of Oxford HealthCare in Springfield, said its Joplin office at 1701 W. 26th St. was totally destroyed.

“If there’s anything you can say that was fortunate about it was that it was Sunday, and we did not have any employees in the building at the time,” Thomas said, noting that at least three employees had lost their homes to the storm but none of the 600 employees who report to the Joplin office were killed.

On May 24, Thomas said all but a few of Oxford’s nearly 2,000 in-home patients served there had been located. She said a group of 10 Springfield employees were still working to check shelters and hospitals throughout the region to find or locate the last ones.

Oxford is currently working out of Destiny Church, 3411 N. Rangeline Road.

Fred Osborn, Joplin market president for Commerce Bank, said the branch at 1804 E. 20th St. had suffered damage beyond repair. A second location, 2980 McClelland Blvd., was still being assessed as of May 25.

Osborn said all employees were safe, and all retrievable items were taken to Commerce’s Third and Main branch, which, along with Commerce’s Webb City bank, have absorbed the employees who worked at the damaged branches.

Osborn said he had no idea how long recovery might take.

“That’s the more-than-a-million-dollar question,” he said. “There’s no electricity in a lot of places.”

With President Obama’s declaration of Jasper and Newton counties as disaster areas, federal dollars are available to help businesses cover losses.

Business owners can apply for disaster loans up to $2 million through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which has opened a Recovery Center in the Joseph Newman Innovation and Technology Center, 407 S. Pennsylvania Ave., in downtown Joplin.

For instance, SBA’s Business Physical Disaster Loans cover repairs or replacement of damaged property, real estate, inventory, supplies or machinery, at 4 percent to 6 percent interest, SBA officials told Joplin Tri-State Business Journal. SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans, also at similar interest rates, serve as working capital for companies whose client bases were affected.

“I know that businesses can recover,” said SBA Public Information Officer William Koontz. “Will they all recover? No, they won’t. Some businesses weren’t doing well to begin with. They might not even qualify for this loan, even at this rate. But we’ve seen in every community with the worst-hit disasters – New Orleans, you pick a community – people are resilient, people pull together, people don’t quit. It can be done.”

Going forward
Empire District Electric Co., which serves the Joplin area, said roughly 11,000 customers were still without power due to the storm as of May 26.

Joel Alexander, spokesman for City Utilities of Springfield, said CU has sent four line crews to assist Empire District Electric with its 60 downed electric transmission poles. He said many of the lines the roughly 15 Springfield employees have been working on have helped to restore power to areas east of the city, such as Sarcoxie.

“We stand ready to help in whatever way we can,” Alexander said, adding that crews from around 25 states had assisted CU during the ice storm of 2007. “They’re our neighbors. That’s what’s really great about living in this part of the country – people will drop what they’re doing to help out if someone needs it.”

He said CU has provided a generator for a makeshift triage unit established between St. John’s Medical Center and Freeman Medical Center, and the utility provider also has transported a half-dozen Joplin residents back to their home city after being treated in Springfield.

Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman with St. John’s Medical Center, said 175 employees were working when the twister hit the hospital. The organization reported that five patients and one visitor died at the center due to the storm.

She said the medical center has been coordinating with hospitals throughout the region to care for its patients, and that 77 had been treated at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. CoxHealth had reportedly taken in 90 patients.

Officials at Mercy, the St. Louis parent company of St. John’s, have said the health system will rebuild in Joplin.

Structural engineers are examining St. John’s Regional Medical Center to determine if it is salvageable, St. John’s President Gary Pulsipher said during an on-site news conference, noting that the new hospital might be built elsewhere.

For now, Mercy officials said caregivers will work out of a 60-bed mobile hospital able to withstand 100-mile-per-hour winds, with services including emergency, surgery, imaging, labs and in-patient care.

Board members are discussing the health system’s long-term plans in Joplin.

Joplin Tri-State Business Journal Reporter David Mink contributed to this report.
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