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Tornadoes Destroy Clubs in Joplin, MO, Tuscaloosa, AL

Tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast this past spring killed hundreds and ravaged thousands of homes and buildings. Some fitness clubs in communities hit hardest by the storms were not spared.

Olympic Fitness Center, which had been in operation for years in Joplin, MO, was destroyed by an EF5 tornado on May 22. One report said that members hunkered down in a closet inside the club while the tornado roared over them.

Powerhouse Gym CEO Henry Dabish spent many anxious hours making calls and sending texts to his Joplin club’s owners and managers before he finally heard that they were OK. Powerhouse Gym opened its doors to displaced homeowners to use its shower facilities, Dabish says.

A Curves club in Joplin and its owner survived the tornado. The club, however, has been closed indefinitely, and the equipment has been removed to deter looters, according to a Curves spokesperson.

Maccaroo Gyms, a kids’ fitness facility in Joplin, did not sustain any detrimental damage, says operator Ken Scheuerman. The gym was used for the American Red Cross and Americorps after the tornado and re-opened for business on June 1, Scheuerman says.

“Things are a little hectic, but we feel it is important to promote a sense of normalcy as the community moves forward,” he says.

The three YMCA facilities in Joplin also are back to normal operating hours, but membership usage has dropped dramatically, and most of the usual programming has been suspended, according to Amy York, associate executive at the Joplin Family YMCA.

As of June 6, the tornado had killed 141 people, and all of the missing persons had been accounted for.

“You simply cannot imagine the devastation here,” Kevin Rhinehart, owner of Rhino Fitness Center that was unharmed in the Joplin tornado, said last month. “Nuclear war couldn’t be much worse.”

The description of the aftermath was eerily similar to what an EF4 tornado did to Tuscaloosa, AL, earlier this spring. The April 27 tornado there destroyed both a Planet Fitness and a World Gym. A few members at Planet Fitness took shelter in the locker room and were unharmed while the storm pummeled their club.

“The city in general is absolutely devastated,” David Leverett, owner of Fitness South in Tuscaloosa, said after the tornado killed 40 in his hometown. “It’s indescribable. It’s like a bomb went off right where Planet Fitness and World Gym were. It’s hard to fathom.”

Universities in both communities came to the aid of survivors. An athletic center at Missouri Southern State University became an American Red Cross shelter. The University of Alabama’s student rec center housed students whose off-campus housing had been damaged.

(A version of this story appears in the June issue of Club Industry.)

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