It seems a week hasn't gone by this spring when we haven't had to get out a state map to chart the latest natural weather disaster to strike our nation.
On Sunday, Joplin, a city in southwestern Missouri about the size of Wilkes-Barre, was the latest to enter its name on the list of most devastated places. The tornado was the deadliest strike on a U.S. city since 116 died in Flint, Mich., on June 8, 1953.
As of Monday, there have been 454 deaths due to 1,000 tornadoes so far. April of this year set a record as the deadliest month on record with 361 tornado related deaths, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Even weather forecasters in our region are taking this spring's intense storm activity very serious. Last night, when a line of storms moved eastward through the central part of the state, two of the Wilkes-Barre television stations devoted their entire early-evening newscasts to the dangerous weather system moving through our region.
Thankfully, the damage in our area was limited to downed trees and limbs, building damage, and power outages. Roofs can be replaced, lives can't.
Although people in Joplin also had advanced warning to find shelter – the siren sounded about 20 minutes before the twister touched down – nothing could have prepared residents for the size and intensity of the weather system. Forecasters rated it as an EF-4, the second-strongest rating given to twisters with winds blowing between up to 200 mph. The funnel, nearly a mile-wide, tore a six mile wide path through the city, flattening entire blocks.
It is quite remarkable that the loss of life wasn't much higher at Joplin's regional hospital, which took a direct hit. Five of the dead were patients who had been in critical condition before the tornado hit. Some hospital records were carried as far as 60 miles away.
The staff and volunteers had less than a half-hour to move the 180 patients either to a safer location or to an interior wall inside the building. One strong photograph showed a patient being moved on the back of a pickup truck with a hospital worker or volunteer holding an IV bottle over the person.
During the rapid evacuation, two pregnant nurses rushed back to the hospital to help, and had to dive under gurneys to safety as the tornado unleashed its fury. Then they worked the rest of the night to help tend to survivors.
One physician called it a testimony to the human spirit. It's true that the best in people will often surface during the most desperate of times. We witnessed it in the 9/11 attacks a decade ago, and continue to hear of heroic acts through the storms and hurricanes that have devastated so many communities and cost so many lives in recent years.
Our immediate area has seen some hardship with power outages and some flooding but nothing on the massive scale that we've witnessed this spring in states to our south and west.
Words like survival and resilience are no longer reserved for those unfortunate human beings living in some third-world nation. In just the last decade, they have been used to describe Americans in places like New York City, New Orleans and now, Joplin, Missouri.