Volunteers active in Joplin recovery

Thousands of people, including many faith-based organizations, spend summer weeks helping twister-devastated survivors

BY JOHN PAPE | JOPLIN, MO | August 2, 2011



"When I go to bed every night, Im usually very tired, but its a good tired. I know Ive done something to make a difference in these peoples lives"

—Samantha Morris


Nearly three months after a multiple-vortex EF-5 tornado destroyed much of Joplin, Mo., taking more than 150 lives, hundreds of recovery and relief workers from government agencies and faith-based organizations remain on the scene helping survivors put their lives back together.

More than 9,000 residents of Joplin and Jasper and Newton counties have registered for recovery assistance, according to FEMA.

Some 600 state and federal employees are working to meet the needs of storm survivors, aided by more than 30,000 faith-based and nonprofit volunteers.

In the weeks since the storm, Missouri Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, the Governor's Faith-based and Community Service Partnership for Disaster Recovery and FEMA have all worked to coordinate critical emergency supplies, medical aid and disaster relief.

Volunteer efforts included operating six shelters, 120 points of distribution, and a volunteer reception center coordinated by AmeriCorps that processed more than 32,000 volunteers.

Among those volunteering were several players, coaches and staff from the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

Volunteers from such organizations as the Salvation Army, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Southern Baptist Convention, Disciples of Christ, Mennonite Disaster Services, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and the American Red Cross have provided assistance ranging from operating shelters, feeding storm survivors and taking part in damage assistance teams to taking aid applications and removing debris.

So far, more than 750,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed from the Joplin area. In addition, more than 49,000 containers of household hazardous waste have been collected from stricken parts of the community.

Libby Turner, federal coordinating officer for FEMA stressed the cooperation between government and faith-based organizations has helped to bring a degree of normalcy back to devastated Joplin.

“The coordinated efforts between federal, state, local, nonprofit, private sector and faith-based organizations have provided a broad network for survivors to get the critical information, resources and disaster assistance they need most, and in a timely fashion,” Turner said.

Even pets impacted and in some cases left homeless by the tornado outbreak are receiving assistance. The Missouri Humane Society has reunited more than 500 pets with their human companions. The Humane Society continues to work with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and several emergency animal shelters in Joplin to reunite more than additional 600 pets that are still looking for their owners.

Federal, state and local officials have also teamed up with the Independent Living Center and other disability organizations to serve as a resource for individuals with disabilities, access and other functional needs. Through what the agency calls “focused disability integration efforts,” FEMA is taking steps ensure people with disabilities, seniors and those with low English proficiency are made aware of how to apply for benefits from disaster assistance programs. Specially-trained faith-based volunteers have been assigned to assist with those special-needs individuals.

As recovery efforts continue, FEMA provided a summary of the recovery and relief assistance that has been provided in the first 30 days following the tornado outbreak. The summary of individual assistance included:

$14 million in federal assistance approved for Jasper and Newton counties

$5.6 million in housing assistance, including rental and home repair assistance

$8 million in individual other needs assistance, which includes such things as losses and damage to personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, moving expenses and other disaster-related costs

9,802 disaster survivors registered with FEMA for individual assistance

SBA assistance included:

More than $9.3 million in disaster loans have been approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Joplin area

$7.3 million to help pay for residential and personal property losses

$2 million to help pay for business losses.

Additionally, 36 recovery missions have been assigned to 17 federal agencies at an estimated cost of $250 million. In addition to FEMA, those recovery missions have been assigned to such agencies as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, General Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and others.

St. Louis schoolteacher Samantha Morris is one of the volunteers helping storm survivors apply for aid. Morris said she volunteered to help with the recovery effort because “it’s our Christian duty to help others in need.”

“I could have taken a summer trip; I had some of my fellow teachers who invited me to go with them. When I saw the video of the devastation here in Joplin, I just knew I wouldn’t feel right laying on a beach while these people are suffering,” Morris said. “I don’t really have any skills in construction of anything like that, but they found something for me to do conducting damage assessments and helping people fill out aid applications.”

Morris said she “hasn’t regretted her choice to volunteer for a second.”

“When I go to bed every night, I’m usually very tired, but it’s a good tired. I know I’ve done something to make a difference in these people’s lives,” she said. “I’ve done something to help.”

Kansas volunteer April Simmons said she had a similar experience helping in shelters and kitchens.

“You can see the difference in the people. When I first got here, they were walking around with a vacant look, like there was no future,” Simmons said. “Now, you can see the hope.”

At the same time, Simmons stressed “there’s a long way to go.”

“I don’t know how long it will take for Joplin to get back to the way it was; I don’t know that anyone does. It will be a long time, that’s for sure,” she said. “And these people are going to need a lot of help. It’ll take a long time for these scars to heal.”

Mark Rohr, city manager for the southwest Missouri community of 50,000, said the tornado “split the town in half.”

Included in the path of destruction was St. John’s Regional Medical Center, one of the city’s two major hospitals. Six people were killed in the hospital. Of those, five were patients on ventilators who died after the building lost power and a backup generator did not work. The sixth fatality was a hospital visitor.

The Joplin Globe reported that 54 percent of the fatalities died in their residences, 32 percent died in non-residential areas and 14 percent died in vehicles or outdoors.

The Joplin tornado was the deadliest to hit in the United States since 1947, the seventh-deadliest single tornado in U.S. history and the 27th deadliest ever recorded.

It is also likely to be the costliest tornado in U.S. history, with current estimates to rebuild Joplin at $3 billion.


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