Hospital to rebuild, schools to open in fall

JOPLIN, Mo. —St. John's Regional Medical Center, ravaged by Sunday's tornado, will be rebuilt, and Joplin schools will start on time in August.

Volunteers by the thousands are pouring into the city to help with search and rescue, cleanup and care for the displaced.

Those were among the promising developments Wednesday.

The death toll from Sunday's EF5 tornado stands now at 125 with more than 900 injured, City Manager Mark Rohr said at an evening press conference.

Rohr could not provide a total number of people displaced or of those who have no jobs to go to.

As for the massive cleanup that awaits, Rohr said officials were working on a plan, but he could not provide specifics such as where the millions of tons of debris would go.

Power also remains a problem. At last count, 14,000 customers were without electricity in Joplin, the Empire District Electric Co. said. About 10,000 of those were inside the tornado's path of destruction, and they might be without service "for the foreseeable future," the company said in a statement.

St. John's, resembling a building damaged by war, has become the visual image of the tornado that leveled more than a fourth of the city, with the hospital taking a direct shot.

"It looked like a bomb exploded inside," said Sean Smith, an emergency physician.

President and CEO Gary Pulsipher said St. John's, in Joplin since 1896, remained committed to the city and would build a facility better than ever.

Joplin schools superintendent C.J. Huff said five of the Joplin district's 19 schools were "a total loss." Those include Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center, South Middle, Irving Elementary and Emerson Elementary.

East Middle School and Cecil Floyd Elementary sustained significant damage, Huff said.

School has been canceled for the rest of this academic year, but Huff said the district plans to open the 2011-12 year on time in 84 days. The district is looking at places to put students, including possibly industrial spaces.

Huff estimates it will cost more than $100 million to replace the buildings alone, let alone all the computers and other equipment that goes in them.

In other developments, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened an office in a Methodist church at Fourth Street and Byars Avenue.

The city also announced that a business recovery center will open today to assist business owners damaged by the tornado. Officials with the Small Business Administration will be on hand with details of low-interest loans.

The city on Wednesday scrapped a permit plan for anyone entering the heaviest-hit areas when thousands of residents, volunteers and workers overwhelmed sign-up sites.

"It was good idea, but became too cumbersome," Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts said.

Authorities, out of concern for looting, launched the plan to keep a strict accounting of anyone entering the most-affected areas.

Residents who can stay in their homes are reluctant to leave, and shop owners are standing guard, though reports of looting have been sparse.

Lines at the four sign-up sites for the permits started at 6 a.m. and three hours later ran 400 to 500 people deep.

They were asked to show ID, vehicle type and purpose for being in the area. The slow pace frustrated those in line.

"But we want to get back in and get what stuff we can," said Susan Warden.

The tornado blew out her windows and took her roof.

"We had other people's siding in our house," she said.

Then she asked: "Is this Wednesday?"

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