by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – We’ve all heard – and probably uttered – that old joke about Missouri’s weather: “If you don’t like our weather, just wait a few minutes. It’ll change.”
Sometimes, it changes for the worse and changes dangerously. While rebuilding efforts continue over two years after the Joplin tornado, Missourians continue to learn from past disasters in order to be better prepared for future ones.
Nicole Hawkins works at the St. Louis chapter of the Red Cross and doesn’t want anyone to take severe weather lightly. “Between tornadoes and flooding, we have one of the highest rates of disasters throughout the country.”
In the last few years, twisters and other severe storms have touched almost every part of the state. The worst, of course, is the 2011 storm that took the lives of over 160 people in Joplin. When a massive tornado recently struck Moore, Oklahoma, national media coverage used Joplin’s damage as a benchmark to explain how bad that storm was.
While we cannot stop bad weather, Hawkins says we can prepare for it and that could mean the difference between life and death.
On “Missouri Viewpoints”, she explains “You can make yourself and your family safe. So, making sure you know where your safe spot in your home is is, by far, the number one thing to do.”
That safe spot, ideally, is in a basement or cellar. If you don’t have an underground area in your home, an interior room on the ground-level floor is best. Pick a room with no widows or the fewest and smallest windows. She also recommends having an emergency kit in or near that safe spot. This should include a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and first aid supplies.
Another recommendation, especially if you have children in the home, is to include a comfort item like a stuffed animal or favorite candy to calm their nerves during the storm.
Having a safe spot is only useful when you have enough warning to get there. Hawkins recommends downloading the Red Cross’ new tornado warning app on your cell phone. It’s free and sets off a siren on your phone whenever there’s a tornado warning in your area.
The app operates with a GPS system so it only sends alerts when you are in a tornado warning area, even if that’s not at home.
Learning from the past can also keep us safer during severe weather. KOMU-TV news anchor Jim Riek is the coauthor of a new book about Joplin. Through his many visits to the town while reporting on the recovery, he learned that some people died because they didn’t take the warnings seriously.
“A lot of Joplin people heard the tornado warning, they went out of their house to go look and they never made it back.”
Riek, along with former KOMU meteorologist Michelle Bogowith (now a meteorologist for WDAF-TV in Kansas City), put their reporting and other experiences while covering the damage into a new book. It’s called Joplin: Our Words, Our Stories, Their Hope and is available as an e-book now. Riek says a printed version of the book will soon be available.
“All of the proceeds go to this group, Rebuild Joplin, and they’re still building. They need to build another 100 to 150 homes. So if you buy this book what you’re doing is you’re helping build homes in Joplin for the people who were uninsured or underinsured.”
While KOMU is in the Columbia-Jefferson City area, the station has sent crews to Joplin dozens of times over the past two years to keep reporting on the progress of the community. Riek says that will continue until the rebuilding is complete.
“When the President said during the memorial service ‘I just want Joplin to know that when the satellite trucks leave the federal government is here to say’, I kind of took that as kind of a challenge. It was kind of like, ok, I can keep going back to Joplin, and we have.”
Riek adds that isn’t just about journalists continuing to cover a big story in the state, it’s about keeping it before viewers and listeners in Missouri because the story and the need is not over just yet.
On the web:
Red Cross Tornado Warning Mobile App: http://www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/tornado-app
Joplin: Our Words, Our Stories, Their online: http://www.amazon.com/Joplin-Words-Stories-Their-ebook/dp/B00CXS40DU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372949518&sr=8-1&keywords=joplin+riek+bogowith
Rebuild Joplin: http://rebuildjoplin.org/
Jim Riek: http://www.komu.com/pages/jim-riek-bio/
Michelle Bogowith: http://fox4kc.com/author/michellebogowith/
* all photos used in the video are courtesy of KOMU-TV