KANSAS CITY, Mo. – At least 11 people were killed at one Joplin nursing home by the tornado that devastated the southwest Missouri city and turned the building into a pile of rubble, the home's operator told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Bill Mitchell, who operates Greenbriar nursing home on the city's south side, said 10 residents and a staff member were among the nearly 120 people killed by Sunday evening's twister. One person remains unaccounted for and the facility has been unable to contact the resident's family, he said. But he added that they were hopeful the missing resident would be found in another facility.
The tornado tossed four vehicles, including a full-size van, into Greenbriar's building and left only one 10-foot section of an interior wall standing, Mitchell said.
"What used to be a building was nothing more than a pile of rubble," said Mitchell, the Senior Vice President for Health Facilities Management Corp., based in Sikeston, Mo. "That's why I want you to understand how great the staff was. They were in that building when it hit and it was collapsing around them and they got the people out and you think of only 11 fatalities out of nothing left but a pile of rubble, it's pretty amazing."
Staff at Greenbriar and another heavily damaged facility, Meadows Care Center, had received a warning that the storm was coming and started moving people — some dependent on oxygen to breathe and others hardly able to communicate — into the halls. But it hit quicker than expected, Mitchell said.
"It wouldn't have mattered if you put people in the hall or if you had a basement because you couldn't get them all in the basement in less than five minutes," Mitchell said. "There was just nothing there. After it got done, there was nothing there. If they had been in the hall, they still would have been impacted by the storm. The entire building was torn down."
Mitchell said he knew of the deaths because management staff at the scene worked with emergency responders who assessed the residents as they were brought out of the rubble. In addition, one staff member had 35 broken bones and another occupant suffered a spinal cord injury.
Residents of Greenbriar, which had 89 residents at the time of the tornado, and Meadows Care Center, which had 104, have been scattered across as many as 20 other facilities throughout Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, Mitchell said.
There were no records of where they were taken, and the nursing home operator has been frantically calling nursing homes throughout the region trying to locate all the displaced residents. The phone outages and lack of computer access only complicated the effort.
He said records and medications for his residents were swept away, and many don't have any clothes other than what they were wearing at the time of the tornado.
After checking nursing homes in the area and the morgue, Amber Sachetta learned Tuesday that her stepfather, 70-year-old Richard Elmore, had died at the Greenbriar facility.
"It's better he isn't one of the ones who is missing," Sachetta said. "All this not knowing has been the worst."
He had Alzheimer's disease and had been in a nursing home since Thanksgiving and at the Greenbriar for about a month.
"My mom said she felt bad she chose the wrong place," she recalled. "I said, 'Richard is in a better place than we are.'"