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Caruthersville, Missouri Fire Chief Honored as StormReady® Community Hero

(Left to Right) NWS Director David L. Johnson, StormReady Community Hero Charlie Jones, NWS Southern Region Director Bill Proenza (Photo: Zwemer Ingram, WFO Memphis)

(August 29, 2006) -- Officials from the National Weather Service honored Caruthersville, Mo. Emergency Manager and Fire Chief Charlie Jones for his courageous, life-saving actions when a tornado ripped through the city on April 2, 2006. In a special ceremony, Jones was presented with the agency's StormReady Community Hero Award.

"Our national Community Hero Award is intended to recognize individuals within a StormReady community who go above and beyond what would be expected of them, and whose actions directly result in saving lives," said National Weather Service Director David L. Johnson. "Not only did Chief Jones take action to save lives that day, but he did so at great personal risk."

The event marked only the fourth time a StormReady Community Hero Award has been presented by the National Weather Service.

Jones was storm spotting at the edge of town when the NWS Forecast Office in Memphis issued a Tornado Warning for Pemiscot County at 6:49 p.m. (CDT). Disseminated via the National Warning and Alert System, the warning noted Caruthersville was in imminent danger from the tornado. Jones immediately ordered the city's sirens to be sounded and, in an unusual move, ordered them to be blown in repeated cycles - thereby enhancing the public response. He also increased the public's sense of urgency by using the local fire communications frequency to further disseminate the warning, adding the phrase: "This is the real thing...Take Cover Now!"

U.S. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.) poses with award recipient Charlie Jones (Photo: Zwemer Ingram, WFO Memphis)

By the time the F3 tornado struck the city at 7:07 p.m., most of its 6,700 citizens had already found shelter. Nearly two thirds of the buildings, including 500 homes, were damaged; and, an estimated 2,000 people would have been at great risk of injury or death, if not for his early and repeated warnings. While the tornado was part of a major outbreak that claimed more than two dozen lives in eight states, not one person died in Caruthersville.

"Although Jones' actions also helped keep injuries to a minimum and, ironically, he was one of the injured," said Bill Proenza, director, National Weather Service Southern Region. "Despite his personal injury, he persisted in his heroic actions during the tornado event and continued to coordinate recovery efforts afterward. By any standard, he was a community hero that night."

Charlie Jones was also the driving force behind Caruthersville's recognition as a StormReady community. The creation of the storm spotter network, the communication protocols, the activation of the sirens, the community's preparedness and prompt response to the tornado, would not have occurred if not for his vision, dedication and leadership.

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