Dispatches from Joplin, Part 3

Subject: Where’s Mike, still-in-Joplin edition.
From: Mike Sisk
Date: June 3, 2011
To: engineering

Well, I finally got an electrician out to my folks place. Then the job turned out to be too big for him since he had a bunch of others needing less work. So he brought yet another electrician over who could do the work.

Turns out to be a pretty big job. For the first few days after the tornado the city wasn’t requiring permits for any work. But after a lot of out-of-town contractors showed up doing sub-standard work the city now require a permit and inspection.

In this case we needed to upgrade my parents electrical from the WWII-era 60-amp service with glass fuses to something a bit more modern. 100-amp service is now the minimum and that requires circuit breakers and the panel located in an approved place. This is a bit of a problem with my parents house.

With temperatures in the 90s and the humidity not that far off, the electrician was able to talk the city into just putting up a new meter base, 100-amp main breaker, and weather head and graft it into the existing electrical system in the interests of just getting the power on as quickly as possible. Then, after the initial crunch is done they’ll return and do the other work to get the house up to code.

So, this is now done and we’re just waiting for the utility to come up and string a service line from the pole to the new meter. Of course, we’ve been waiting for the utility for two days now and they still haven’t shown up.

Here’s a crazy story about the storm: Kim has a friend that lives east of town on some rural horse property. Their place was in the tornado’s path, but it died out before it got to their place so they had no damage. After the storm passed they went out to check on their horses when debris starting falling from the sky. Suddenly, two large dogs literally fell from the sky, bounced off the ground, ran around confused and took off for the woods, apparently unhurt.

Another story on the news was about a dog found in Carthage — a town about 20 miles northeast of Joplin. This dog was found wandering around and when they checked its microchip it was from Joplin in the tornado damaged area. Apparently this dog was sucked up by the tornado and ended up, unhurt, 20 miles away.

The official death count and list was released today: 134 dead during the storm, 4 more (so far) afterwards of injuries sustained. It’s a miracle it wasn’t higher. Quite a few of these were older folks in senior living facilities, a lot of which were clustered around the hospital that was hit. But there were also a surprising number of kids in the list, too. And a few deaths were from folks on life support that died when the hospital’s power went out.

I stopped by the one remaining quick oil change place in town today to get the oil in my Jeep changed. Their other three locations were all in different parts of town, but all happen to lie along the path of the tornado and were all destroyed.

I struck up a conversation with a fellow in the waiting area that had a broken arm. He had just quit his job at a local factory on Friday and had a new job lined up with Union Pacific Railroad in St. Joseph, Missouri as a backhoe operator and was suppose to start with that on Monday. But on Sunday while helping to retrieve a body the board he was using as a lever broke and he instinctively shielded his face with his arm as the board flew up and broke his arm. So he now has no medial insurance, an expensive injury, and can’t work for 6 weeks or so until he gets out of the cast. I suggested he head down to the nearby FEMA station and file a claim. He said he hadn’t thought of that and would do that after they got the flat tire on his truck fixed.

The city has been busy trying to get all the traffic lights in town working so traffic moves more easily. Nearly two weeks after the tornado most of the busy intersections in town still had traffic cops directing traffic and that really slows things down and makes cross-town travel very slow.

But progress is being made and as of today most intersections have working lights. Since most of the lights in this part of town were totally destroyed, it’s a rather interesting site — the pole colors are all different and the lights are a mismatch of different styles. And there’s still no power in most of these areas so portable generators are powering these lights. Same with the Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroad mainline that bisects the damaged area — the grade crossings are all being powered with generators.

As soon as my parents have their power restored I’ll be able to head back to Bend and get back to work.

I still have a few things to do — once the power is back on I need to rebuild the engine on the generator so it’ll be ready for the next event. It’s not designed for the kind of continuous running it’s been subjected to these past few weeks. I got all the parts today so I’m ready to do that as soon as I can stop the thing.

And my folks lost all their refrigerated and frozen food so I need to restock them before I leave.

Update on power situation: The local electric utility says they don’t have a record of a permit or an inspection certificate and can’t hook it to the grid without those. City says they do have them. The electrician that did the work says they’re both being stupid and he’ll make some calls to get it straightened out. What a PITA.