Source: Sherman Publications

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OHS grad views Joplin damage firsthand

by Andrew Moser

July 13, 2011

Devastated buildings in Joplin, Missouri included the hospital (left) and the high school (below). Photos courtesy of Matt Payne.
Matt Payne, a 1993 Oxford High School graduate, got a firsthand account of the amazing power of mother nature.

Payne, who works as the news director for KOAM TV and KFJN TV, was at home in Pittsburg, Kansas, 30 miles north of Joplin, when tornado sirens began going off.

On Sunday, May 22, an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, including ripping the roof off of the local hospital and destroying Joplin High School.

An EF-5 tornado is the strongest tornado possible on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures tornados from zero to five based on increasing degrees of damage.

An EF-5 tornado is classified as having wind speeds greater than 200 miles per hour.

Payne said it wasn't until an hour after he heard the sirens that he found out a tornado touched down in Joplin.

"Our meteorologist said there was a tornado on the ground and I immediately got ready, left, and drove down to the station to help out," Payne said.

Payne's stations, located halfway between Pittsburg and Joplin, survived the storm.

Joplin never stood a chance.

Payne said "there is no way to describe" the damage he saw when touring Joplin days after the tornado.

"I know what places used to look like, and when I went down there to look at them, instead of seeing homes and trees and buildings, I saw two miles away," Payne said. "I saw buildings that I shouldn't be seeing from two miles away."

He added it was "gut wrenching."

"You pass a point and everything looks normal, and then you start seeing a little bit of damage; then all of a sudden there is just total devastation," Payne said.

"You go down there and stand on the property of some of the places you have been, like the Wal-Mart...and just looking at it, it's in ruins," he added. "I thought I understood the devastation from (Hurricane) Katrina, but until you see that kind of destruction, you don't understand it."

Even though Payne's station was not physically damaged, Payne said seven colleagues were affected by the tornado as their homes were destroyed.

However, the stations parent company stepped up and gave the familes temporary housing until permanent homes could be found, Payne said.

Payne noted one colleague was recovering with his family in Chicago after breaking his hip during the tornado.

True American spirit was on display in the following weeks as people across the nation came together to help rebuild the damaged city.

Branson, Missouri hosted a telethon to raise money for Joplin High School's music program and hospital.

According to Payne, the high school was completely destroyed.

"They lost everything," he said. "The high school was completely destroyed...along with their musical instruments and sheet music. Once it was mentioned we were helping the music department, all kinds of people came on board."

"Branson Cares," which was broadcasted on major stations in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri,.attracted more than 30 Branson performers, along with people from around the country, during the three hour telethon.

Payne said they eventually began turning performers away because they had too many for the time allotted.

Payne did graphic work for the telethon, which consisted of gathering the donation totals and making sure the telethon had an accurate running total.

Overall, the telethon raised over $250,000.

Mediacom picked up the telethon and broadcasted it on their public access stations nationwide. It was also streamed on the internet and across numerous radio stations.

Payne noted he has seen signs that Joplin is on it's way back.

"The Home Depot was completely destroyed, but within a week they were out in the parking lot...selling what people needed to rebuild," Payne said. "There were stores back open two days later providing low cost or even free services to the community."

He added the city set a goal of clearing the debris out by August in order to rebuild.

"A lot of times...the story revolves around how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is not helping and other places you hear the story revolve around what is not going right. We have a couple of those stories, but for the most part, everyone is just coming together to help," Payne said.

"Everyone is coming together to rebuild," he added. "It's people helping people on a scale I have never seen before."