'We'll be here until it's over'

Carl Junction, a suburb of Joplin, took a major hit from one of the May 4 tornadoes.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | CARL JUNCTION, Mo. | May 9, 2003



"What didn't get wind damage, the rain got."

—Chris Cummings


Tools from Chris Cumming's business, Surplus USA, have been found as far as 20 miles away from their point of origin. People have shown them to Cummings ? the tools were still wrapped in clear plastic and bore the price stickers that he stuck on himself.

Surplus USA, "an anything and everything kind of store," Cummings said, is now nothing but junk. His insurance company has written it off as a total loss, and the place will have to be demolished.

"What didn't get wind damage," he said, "the rain got."

Surplus USA is located a mile north of Carl Junction, a suburb of Joplin that took a major hit from one of the May 4 tornados.

Unlike towns such as Pierce City or Stockton, where the entire downtown areas were trashed, Carl Junction saw little to no damage on Main Street. It was the outlying areas that got hit the hardest. More than 300 homes were destroyed or damaged so badly they will have to be torn down.

Margaret Kegerries lives just down the road from Surplus USA. The house that she and her husband built 17 years ago was totaled by the storm, but they were grateful to escape with their lives. The elderly couple hid in their bathroom as the high winds ripped the house to pieces. They came out unscathed.

Kegerries said on the wall outside the bathroom she had hung an icon of Jesus flanked by pictures of angels. "It's just like God put his hand up and said, 'You go no further,'" she said.

Kegerries said she has been helped by all sorts of people in the last few days, including volunteers from her own church, the Christian Church of Carl Junction, as well as people she had never met before. Thanks to all the helping hands she said, "We've got a lot done in a short amount of time."

The couple plans to rebuild, but they think they might have to move into a trailer home while they rebuild on the site of their destroyed house.

Down on Main Street, the First Baptist Church of Carl Junction set up an area for accepting and sorting donated clothing.

The Rev. Ray Crews, interim pastor of the church, said teams from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief were in town as well, helping cut up and remove brush and debris from people's property.

But his church was focusing on the clothing drive, as well as helping out the parishioners of the local United Methodist Church. While Crews church suffered almost no damage, the Methodists suffered a different fate ? the facade of the church was crushed, the steeple knocked down and the interior shredded.

"They were having choir practice," Crews said. "But no one was hurt. Not a scratch."

Crews said his congregation was doing everything possible to help their Methodist cousins. This Sunday, for example, the two congregations will share a unified Sunday service at the Baptist church.

The largest disaster relief center was stationed at the Carl Junction High School, which both The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were using as a base of operations.

Salvation Army Capt. Garry Laws said the kitchen was cranking out about 6,000 meals a day and providing bedding for a handful of people every night. About 135 Salvation Army volunteers were working in Carl Junction, he said.

"We expect to be here for the next three months," Laws said. "We'll be here until it's over."

Out front in the parking lot, disaster workers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints pitched a tent, and coordinated the hundred people they had working in the field.

"We're just cutting some trees and moving some brush," said Bishop Mike Phipps, coordinator of the Mormon relief work here.

Despite all the work that needs to be done, some think that other towns, like Pierce City, have garnered more media attention, even though damage here is more extensive.

"My mother didn't even know that Carl Junction was hit," said Debbie Ducommun, community director for the Southwest Missouri Community Alliance. "Yeah, it's not making the national news."

Part of the problem, Ducommun thinks, is that the historic downtown district of Pierce City was destroyed. That makes for good front-page pictures. Here, however, the damage is less glamorous, and it spread out into the rural areas where the suburbs fade into farmland.

But Ducommun is still amazed at the volunteer response to the disaster. One of her jobs, she said, has been to coordinate the efforts of local government with aid groups and businesses.

One major success, she said, came about after she got a call from the mayor, telling her that he needed rakes.

"We've got the workers," the mayor told her, "but we need more tools."

Ducommun called up Home Depot, and within the hour a load of rakes was on the way.

"It's the good side of the human spirit we're seeing now," she said. "It's been a tremendous experience in the last few days to work with the community."


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