Posted by Mike Sanford, May 22, 2012
Tuesday, May 22nd marks the one year anniversary of the tragic tornado that struck the heart of America, the small Midwestern town of Joplin, Missouri. The catastrophic EF5 Tornado reached a width of one mile and crashed through the Southern portion of the city. The storm only lasted minutes, but a lifetime of damage was left in its wake.
I can still recall the very ringing of my phone on that late Sunday evening. Parked on the couch at 6:30 pm, I received the call to “head to Joplin, ASAP”. CNN had firmed our uplink truck. Oblivious to the damage that had occurred in Joplin, I packed a bag and made my way to SW Missouri, departing from our St. Louis based warehouse.
Along for the ride was fellow engineer Niels Black. The company wanted to send all three of our operators because of the unknown and blurry details of the job ahead. Niels and I traveled in HD-2, and Mike Witzel was a half hour behind in HD-1. He was booked for CBS. Not one of us quite knew what lay ahead, but as the radio reports came across the airwaves, we slowly began to understand the magnitude of what had happened. As midnight approached, and we grew closer to the city, I recall seeing ambulances followed by fire trucks followed by military vehicles followed by police cars, all passing us on the left. The sirens were in full tilt. We stopped off for a full tank of fuel and met up with the camera crew. This particular gas station, only 10 miles outside of Joplin, had already begun to see supplies and water quickly leaving the shelves. Unleaded fuel was out.
We had to enter the city limits from the North as Interstate 44 was completely shut down. We were told of numerous flipped vehicles covering the highway. A CNN producer called. We were to head to the St. John’s Hospital to set up for live reporting. It was too dark to see the damage in full. I remember driving through town with only the lights of police vehicles to show the way.
We arrived at the hospital around 1:30 am. Immediately, we went up on satellite and the CNN correspondent began reporting. This was the start of our 6-day live coverage of the storm’s aftermath. I simply could not believe the amount of debris that surrounded us. It was dark, but I was still able to grasp that this was the most damage I had ever witnessed.
The most memorable part of the entire week happened next: the sun began to rise. I stood in the parking lot of the St. John’s hospital, and as far as I could see…in every direction…there was nothing. Trees debarked, homes
flattened, cars piled on top of one another. It was unreal.
The rest of the week brought on additional challenges. I was running on adrenaline. I spent the first two days catching little more than an hour or two of sleep in the cab of the uplink truck. We were broadcasting live every waking hour. The weather saw additional storms roll through. One evening the air was filled with the eerie sounds of more tornado sirens. We would broadcast tragic stories, and broadcast stories of hope. Sprinkled in were signs that the community was going to be ok.
At one point, a man who had lost his home, came to me to discuss my work. He asked questions and was genuinely interested in what I was doing. He thanked me (as a member of the media) for broadcasting these stories to the world…for informing the country of this historic event…for raising the awareness and attention that led people across the nation to send immediate aid and funding donations. Never had I felt so connected to a story. I felt proud to be a part of Kaufman Broadcast. I felt proud that we were right there…there to give the help that the Joplin community so desperately needed.
For Donations to the Red Cross Joplin Area, please follow this link…http://www.redcross-ozarks.org/donate/