Lawyers lose homes in storm; Joplin tornado ranks as most deadly in 50 years

By Missouri Lawyers Media Staff Report

Dolan Media Newswires

ST. LOUIS, MO--Joplin attorney Ed Hershewe hunkered down with his family in a theater room in his basement Sunday evening as a tornado and severe storms struck.

"You could look out the theater room door and see patio furniture just lifted up in the air," Hershewe said.

Fortunately, Hershewe said, all five of his children were home when the tornado hit, and his house was undamaged, though it's only about a mile from St. John's Regional Health Center, which suffered a direct blow.

Not all the people who work at Hershewe's personal injury firm were so lucky. Everyone was safe, though an attorney and three paralegals at the Hershewe Law Firm lost their houses in the tornado that killed at least 116 and tore a miles-long swath of destruction down the center of the southwestern Missouri city.

"Essentially it'll touch everyone in the community, one way or another," said Hershewe, who planned to donate for shelter use two buildings owned by the law firm. The buildings, a 20,000-square-foot building and a conference center with 16,000 square feet, have electrical and water service, he said.

The Joplin Globe was reporting Monday that more than 1,150 people were injured.

Various sources have different historic numbers, but the Joplin tornado will certainly rank as the most deadly in 50 years and among the deadliest in U.S. history.

Because of gas leaks, the power was off in much of the city Monday morning and likely to remain off for a while because of a thunderstorm, Hershewe said.

Hershewe, who was headed to a police station to offer his time as a volunteer, said lawyers and judges from outside the area had been "absolutely phenomenal," offering to drive from St. Louis and Kansas City to bring donations.

"I'm hoping other folks make donations," Hershewe said. "We'll do what we can for office staff."

The city's big needs include clothing and blood, he said.

The Jasper County Courthouse and prosecutor's office in Joplin were closed Monday, but reportedly not significantly damaged. The courthouse in nearby Carthage was open and conducting hearings if the parties arrived.

As in other parts of Joplin, utilities were down at the courthouse.

"The building is still there, but they just don't have electricity or water," said Jeanne Babb, deputy circuit clerk in the Jasper County Courthouse in Carthage.

Judge David Dally, who works most in the Joplin courthouse, said it's also hard to reach the courthouse because roads around it are closed. "You can't get around," he said.

Dally said the court staff in Joplin are accounted for. As for the clerical staff in Carthage, he said some of them live in Joplin and could not make into Carthage Monday. "I think some of them had a lot of damage to their homes," Dally said.

He said court hearings are likely continued if they were set in the Joplin courts building. "They'll have to be reset," he said.

In Carthage, if the parties still show up, hearings would proceed, Babb said. "If they don't, we'll continue them," Babb said.

Judge David Dally, who works mostly in the Joplin courthouse, said hearings were also being cancelled in Carthage.

Dally and Babb didn't know when the Joplin courts building would open and court staff still have many questions unanswered.

"We're not sure what to do. We're in shock," Babb said.

"Everybody is just devastated. People are still not being found," she said about Joplin residents. The prosecutor's office in Joplin was also closed, Dally said.

Joplin attorney Sarah Luce Reeder said the city's downtown, where her family law and criminal defense office and the courthouse are located, was largely unscathed.

The home of a secretary with Sarah Luce Reeder & Associates was destroyed, however, Reeder said. Reeder also was receiving second- and third-hand reports of the destruction of one law firm's building and another attorney's home.

Also leveled: a triplex and four houses owned by Reeder's husband, David Reeder, who rented them out. All David Reeder's tenants survived the storm, Luce Reeder said. One tenant said he hid under a mattress on the second floor and the storm pushed him toward a closet. The closet wall was the only one left standing in the building, Luce Reeder said.

Luce Reeder was working as usual Monday morning, with a client arriving as scheduled for an 11 a.m. appointment, although with a child in tow, as the child's day care had been demolished.

"I thought at first, probably the least of people's worries was legal stuff," Reeder said. "I think everyone's just trying to get over the shock."

Reeder has a grim reminder of Sunday's storms' toll across the street from her office, where a mortuary is housed.

"The garage door is open," Reeder said. "The lights all are on."

Entire contents copyrighted © 2011 by Dolan Media Company.

Published: Thu, Jun 2, 2011


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