Reporter Wally Kennedy, whose home was spared, set out in his car to investigate the damage. “The town had been cut in half,” he says. He saw that St. John’s Hospital was damaged and drove to Freeman Hospital down the road. He started reporting, “but there was an extraordinary number of people being dropped literally off at the doorstep of Freeman.” Patients from St. John’s were being wheeled over on their gurneys. He saw residents using doors and sheets of plywood as stretchers for victims. For the next few hours, he worked as a volunteer, trying to keep the aisles open for doctors, distributing blankets. People were lying on sidewalks and on the street. The hospital’s computers were down, and so was water pressure from the thousands of broken mains. After more than three hours, he got a phone call from Stark. She needed him to get back to work.
The Globe went to press around 1 a.m.—about an hour later than usual. Kennedy wrote the first 20 inches of the lead-all story, under the banner headline “It’s Just Gone.”
“This is my town”
Nearly everyone at the paper describes the days and weeks immediately after the storm as a blur. The Globe pursued the story readers wanted most in the hours after the tornado struck: Who is dead? The coroner was overwhelmed by the number of dead and the difficulty in identifying remains. The disfiguring power of the storm meant that many people could only be identified through a DNA match of a relative. Meanwhile, residents were hysterical from the lack of knowing. Others knew their loved ones were dead but could not hold a funeral until the morgue made it official and released the remains.
Residents started calling the Globe. One woman who called was looking for a loved one whose house was destroyed by the tornado. Neighbors had told her that an ambulance had carted someone away, but the desperate woman didn’t know if the person was alive or dead, if she should continue looking or plan a funeral. “She represented a lot of people,” says Andy Ostmeyer, the metro editor. “The coroner had a hard job to do, but we had a community with real pressing needs.”
The paper began publishing its own list, based on what it could confirm from public sources and family members and witnesses. By June 12, the two lists matched and the paper printed its “Faces of the Storm” issue. “That as important as anything we’ve done,” Stark says.
Kaminsky, meanwhile, was worried about getting papers to as many houses as possible. In the aftermath, couriers struggled to get across town. Ten routes out of 116 didn’t get delivered because of the dangers of the downed lines and debris. Instead, trucks dropped off bundles at makeshift shelters and the paper distributed the Globe on local buses. To prevent looting in the damage zone, law enforcement issued a curfew, but this had the effect of blocking the newspaper’s early morning couriers. Kaminsky knew people were still living in that zone and others were coming back daily to try to salvage what they could—and to get their newspaper, which contained, among other things, the list of the dead. Kaminsky called the publisher. The publisher called the police chief. The chief relented and wrote and signed a letter that was copied for all the couriers, giving them permission to be in the zone.
Homeless staff members lived in motels, paid for by the Globe’s ownership group, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which also sent support staff, cash, and transportation. Meanwhile, the Globe took on a strange new life as a national focal point. Gift baskets full of junk food, pens, notepads, and money arrived from newspapers and press associations across the country. The Missouri Press Association gathered about $70,000 in cash for victims of the storm who worked at the Globe. Other donors from across the country sent checks to the paper with instructions to give the money to the needy, whomever they may be. Two former reporters from The Wichita Eagle showed up and volunteered to help, as did others.