What Does The Recovery In Joplin Look Like?
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The 49,000 residents of Joplin, Missouri, had just a few minutes to seek cover before a massive tornado struck yesterday. One group of about 20 sought cover at a Fast Trip convenience store. Among them, 23-year-old Isaac Duncan(ph); using his phone, he recorded what happened next.
(Soundbite of storm)
SIEGEL: Duncan, along with the others, crowded into the store's walk-in refrigerator and there, they waited for the worst.
(Soundbite of storm)
SIEGEL: When the group emerged from the Fast Trip refrigerator, much of the store around them and much of Joplin itself was gone. The tornado left a path of destruction nearly half a mile wide and six miles long. So far, at least 116 people are confirmed dead.
Earlier I spoke with reporter Frank Morris in Joplin about what he found there today.
FRANK MORRIS: Well, it's not the same town anymore. About a third of it has been ravaged by this monster tornado. And so, you drive in and there's debris everywhere and the lights are out. You notice that right away.
But then, when you get into the part where the tornado really hit, it looks like it's just ground up in a meat grinder and spit across the surface of the earth here.
SIEGEL: And how much time, actually, did people have? How much warning did they have before the tornado struck?
MORRIS: Well, apparently, the sirens went off about 20 minutes before the tornado hit. A lot of people, though, didn't heed them. And I talked with one fellow whose warning was a chair from the porch flying through the front window. He grabbed his daughter and pulled the couch over them and saved their lives that way.
A lot of people here in this neighborhood that was very, very hard hit do not have basements. This was a neighborhood built probably in the '60s. People weathered the storm in their bathrooms, in bathtubs and, you know, a number of them didn't make it. Although a lot of people, not among the dead who are in critical condition, farmed out to hospitals all around this area.
SIEGEL: Is this still a rescue operation? That is, do people assume there might be survivors buried under the debris who still could be saved?
MORRIS: Yes, that is the assumption. They are still looking for survivors. Some of the houses - not all of the houses have been searched with dogs because this is a very - this is a wide swath of devastation here. And I think there is still some hope that they might find somebody in one of the houses. They have pulled people out of very tight corners, I'm told, so there's still some hope that there might be some more survivors found. They're not yet just looking for the bodies, although they're searching for them as well.
SIEGEL: And I would assume residents are looking for their possessions that they lost in the tornado. What are you hearing from folks there?
MORRIS: Well, you know, people are primarily looking for things like their glasses or their keys, things that you wouldn't expect to lose. But, you know, when a tornado bears down, it comes down on you and you're not ready for it, you don't have those things. Of course, they're also looking for photographs. I saw a fellow pull a file cabinet out from underneath the house. It had gone into kind of a crawl space underneath the house.
And that was like finding a treasure chest because they had all their personal papers in it from - his mother-in-law's personal papers. His mother-in-law, you know, wound up out in the yard. They found her in the yard and she's in critical condition. But at least they found her personal belongings.
And, again, these houses, a lot of them, Robert, are just completely destroyed. The rubble and the splinters, the slurry of mud and glass and nails and twisted metal, it's everywhere. It's not just that the houses are destroyed. It's that the houses were destroyed and churned up and splintered and spit out everywhere. And there's not a square inch of ground that you can look at that isn't embedded with the fragments of people's lives.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Frank.
MORRIS: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Frank Morris, speaking to us from Joplin, Missouri.
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