JOPLIN — Joplin is getting another big boost from the Middle East as the Missouri city rebuilds and prepares for the anniversary of a devastating tornado that killed 161 people.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba was in Joplin on Friday to announce that the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation is donating $5 million to Mercy Hospital for a pediatric section and the development of a neonatal intensive care unit.
Mercy was one of the most prominent of 8,000 buildings destroyed in the May 22 twister. The towering structure was left little more than a shell after the EF-5 tornado cut a wide swath through the southwest Missouri community. The hospital was knocked 4 inches off its foundation. Every window was blown out. Several people inside were killed or injured.
Mercy has relocated to a temporary space with plans to have a new 825,000-square foot, 300-bed hospital in operation by 2015.
"The resilience of the people of Joplin is an inspiration to the entire world," Al Otaiba said. "Emiratis have watched this community recover and rebuild from the disaster last year, and we are honored to help Mercy deliver an enhanced level of medical care to children."
It was the second major donation to Joplin from the UAE. In August, the nation announced a challenge grant that could be worth up to $1 million to purchase new laptop computers for all 2,200 students at Joplin High School. The high school was destroyed in the tornado, and students are attending classes in a converted department store until a new school can be built.
Volunteers from the UAE also made the 7,000-mile journey to help Habitat for Humanity build homes in Joplin.
The UAE has made medical donations to other U.S. communities hit by natural disasters and wanted to pitch in for Mercy.
"The ambassador made clear in our conversations that he understands how health care is crucial to a stable and thriving community," said Lynn Britton, president and chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Mercy, which operates 31 hospitals.
The previous hospital did not have a neonatal ICU, meaning that Joplin area families had to travel to other cities for treatment if infants were born prematurely, with life-threatening illnesses or other complications.
Also Friday, Mercy released for the first time surveillance video footage from inside a hospital emergency room showing the remarkable devastation of the tornado. No one was in the room. The footage shows magazine pages starting to flip gently. Then, suddenly, chairs begin to move in a circular motion and within seconds go flying out of camera shot as debris blows into the room.
Mercy spokeswoman Bethany Pope said the video was not released sooner to allow time for grieving for those killed, injured or traumatized inside the hospital.