Second trip to Joplin with a group from our church. Teamed up with my friend Byron Morgan and about eight other guys to remove downed trees. Operated out of Calvary Baptist Church near Joplin, whose facilities have become a warehouse: classrooms filled with food, paper goods, bottled water, etc. Eight semi trailers in the parking lot being unloaded with supplies.
Our team went to an address where we were supposed to remove a tree that had fallen against a house but couldn’t help there: found we needed aerial equipment and professional skills to do the job without causing more damage. Cruised the streets a bit to see if anyone needed tree removal – those that did declined our help because they were waiting for insurance adjusters to view damage. Came upon a family in distinctive Mennonite or Amish dress and assisted them in their efforts to clean up someone’s residential property: cutting up and removing damaged garage walls, removing debris from yard. About 20-25% of the roof of the house was gone and contents of the kitchen and probably more had been sucked up through the hole. Despite the destruction of his property, the homeowner repeatedly said others in the city were much worse off. Tough Ozarkers…
In the afternoon we went to what was left of an apartment complex in the real ground zero of the tornado path. We were supposed to help a woman by lifting walls so she could find personal items. If you think it’s hard to find the right unit in an unfamiliar apartment complex, try doing it when the complex is rubble. Finally found the place and waded through debris, unstable boards, nails, and trash to get to where we could cut and lift the walls. There was little for the former resident to find: a few kitchen items, a child’s toy. But she was positive, thanked us for our help and said she would continue working through the heat and dust to find what she could. Meanwhile, in the same apartment complex we tried to remove some debris so an old gentleman could retrieve a buried file cabinet but he said we would probably need heavy equipment to do the job. He was right – dangerous situation on the second floor of what was left of the building. However, one of our guys managed to rescue some military medals from under the debris.
Sights around Joplin:
--Although the scene is becoming more familiar, it is impossible to adjust to it. One cannot get used to such destruction.
--Got close to St. John’s hospital. Like others have said, it looks like an internal bomb had gone off. Hanging on the side of the building, however, is a giant American flag. There are flags flying throughout the tornado’s path and on one block someone had placed tiny American flags in front of each heavily damaged home.
--Plywood sheets in front of destroyed homes are spray-painted with messages like “All OK,” or “We’re OK.”
--Some homes look like the backs of doll houses: a wall is ripped away and one can see rooms inside, including one residence where items on kitchen cabinets are visible, although jumbled.
A Boston Globe column by Kevin Cullen quoted FEMA Deputy Administrator Richie Serino saying he had never seen anything like what he has seen in Joplin. And that’s from a guy who is a self-described former “street medic” to tough areas of Boston. Yet Serino was amazed by the resilience of people and how a family who had lost everything, including a great-grandmother, told him to go help other people because they were hurting more.
That’s the spirit of tough Ozarkers: thanks for the help but others are worse off.