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'Every single business is gone'

Much of downtown Pierce City was demolished by the tornado.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | PIERCE CITY, Mo. | May 8, 2003


"I'd sure hate to walk away from it. I've got a lot of work in it, so we're going to try and fix it."

—Scott Rector


Scott Rector isn't a very happy man, and he's not interested in hearing what he can't do.

The tornado that blew this town to smithereens on May 4 dealt a big blow to Rector, the recently elected president of the town's Chamber of Commerce.

First off, the tornado wrecked his house ? an old church that he has spent the last five years renovating. He made a home in a small apartment inside the church for three years, and he soon hoped to branch out into the rest of the building. The tornado changed all that.

"The insurance people told me it's a total loss," he said. Rector, however, has no plans to write the place off. "I'd sure hate to walk away from it. I've got a lot of work in it, so we're going to try and fix it."

Then there was his downtown antique shop, Freda Mae's, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 1. It was destroyed three days later. The insurance company declared it a total loss. Rector isn't so sure what he'll do with that building.

Rector is not alone in his tough situation. Much of downtown Pierce City was demolished by the tornado. While Pierce City is still recognizable as a city, unlike Stockton further north, it still appears as if it might have been wiped out.

"Every single business in town is just gone," he said. "All that's left is the post office and the city hall."

National guardsmen worked alongside city workers and volunteers in the heart of downtown, working to clear out the tons of trash and debris. On a bent pole on the main street, a bedraggled American flag flew at half-mast.

Nearby, The Salvation Army had set up a mobile kitchen. Volunteers were cooking up meals for relief workers.

Normally, The Salvation Army would have a larger presence in such a severe disaster area, said Jim Shell, a Salvation Army envoy and minister, who runs a homeless shelter in nearby Springfield. But the widespread devastation of recent tornados made that kind of coverage impossible.

"Because of this tornado hitting so many areas, we've kind of had to spread out," he said.

One of Shell's main concerns was finding out about outlying areas that had been hard-hit by the tornado, and getting aid to these people. A few new areas had just been discovered on Wednesday, and Shell sent out crews to feed these people.

Two blocks from the wrecked downtown, relief workers from several aid groups were headquartered in St. Mary's Catholic Church and adjoining elementary and middle schools.

Jodi Schlup, the school librarian, and her two children, Allison, 10, and Andrew, 9, cleared debris from the school Wednesday afternoon. Schlup said her home wasn't affected by the storm, but personally, she and every other resident of the town suffered from the disaster.

""We were affected by it because this is our town. Our kids go to school here, and this is our church," she said.

Schlup, a native of Washington state who moved to Pierce City 13 year ago, wishes she had spent the time checking out all of the downtown shops, since some of them are likely gone forever.

"I so regret not taking the time to go through all those shops," she said.

Father Peter Morciniec, born in Germany, raised in Poland, and an immigrant to the U.S. in 1976, said his church was doing a remarkable job coping with the disaster.

The church itself did not incur much damage, he said - mainly some damage to the roof and the seminary. The school took the brunt of the storm, and Morciniec was concerned about getting the students back to class, so they could finish out the last two weeks of school.

There were a few proposals floating around about how that might be done, he said, including the "very primitive situation" of setting up makeshift classrooms in the rectory.

But Morciniec was most pleased by all the help his church, which provided bedding for dozens of people, has received.

Not only is the American Red Cross headquartered here, but Tyson Foods set up an huge barbeque in the parking lot, and providing food for hundreds of people. Also, a mobile trailer from the Children's Miracle Network, a charity established by the Osmond family, was also stationed outside.

"The outpouring of support is enormous," he said. "It came from many places."

Outsiders observing the devastation here may wonder how the town will ever recover, but residents like Scott Rector are confident about the town's future.

"It's messed us up pretty bad, but a lot of people are counting on us," Rector said. "We'll be all right, man. We're still standing here, living."


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