After Tornado Strikes, Volunteers Descend On Joplin

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Hundreds of volunteers and heavy equipment from across the region are streaming into Joplin, Mo. Emergency responders are still in rescue mode, hoping to find survivors.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Volunteers streamed into Joplin, Missouri, today. The city is beginning a daunting recovery after being hit by the single worst tornado in nearly six decades. Rebuilding in Joplin will no doubt take years.

In the short term, emergency responders are still in rescue mode; they are racing to find survivors as another storm system rumbles their way. Storms about 250 miles west in Oklahoma spawned massive tornadoes late today.

NPR's Sonari Glinton is in Joplin, and he caught up with a number of volunteers and locals as they picked up the pieces there.

SONARI GLINTON: By now, the images of the destruction in Joplin are everywhere: SUVs smashed like pop cans in the recycling bin, houses and trees where they just aren't supposed to be.

Larry Johnson came to Joplin to help his children dig out.

Mr. LARRY JOHNSON: Pictures do not do this justice. It's just - it's gut wrenching. But my kids made it, so there's a lot of work, need a lot of people to help get all these people cleaned up because it's going to be a long time before they all get to move back in.

GLINTON: Johnson is part of an army of volunteers who've come to Joplin in the past few days.

This morning, the main roads of the city were jammed with heavy equipment and people here to help.

(Soundbite of machinery)

GLINTON: The victims' needs are wide ranging.

Paul Northcut is a police chaplain who traveled four hours from Russellville, Arkansas, to help Tim Sumners who normally serves as the police chaplain himself in Joplin.

Mr. PAUL NORTHCUT (Police Chaplain): He's a chaplain that's now a victim.

Mr. TIM SUMNERS (Police Chaplain): I'm one of the chaplains here in town...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SUMNERS: ...but I'm a victim this time. So I don't - I have to care of my girls, and so he's doing it for us. I hope we don't ever have to come help you.

Mr. NORTHCUT: Yes, sir. I understand. Yeah. Yes.

Mr. SUMNERS: OK. Yeah.


Mr. SUMNERS: All right. I'm just so grateful.

GLINTON: Sumners says this is one of the few times when his personal needs outweigh his ability to minister. And Reverend Northcut says, at times of crisis, people of faith are often needed the most.

Mr. NORTHCUT: I'm just here to pass out water and food and prayers, try to encourage folks and let them know that God is here in spite of the crisis.

GLINTON: While Northcut is seeing to the spiritual needs of Joplin residents, formal and informal triage centers and shelters have popped up across the city in part to handle not just the victims but the volunteers.

Ms. MELISSA CARLIN(ph) (Restaurant Owner): We're from Louisiana originally.

GLINTON: Melissa Carlin owns a restaurant in Ozark, Missouri, but today, she's working at one of the triage centers at Missouri Southern State University.

Ms. CARLIN: And we lived through Katrina. We helped there. We worked during that. I guess, God just spoke to my heart, and he said, you know, go. And so my - closed the restaurant early day and took off and just came.

GLINTON: Carlin says she was compelled to do whatever she could, which for her is cooking.

Ms. CARLIN: We brought spaghetti, noodles, water, all the sauces, and we cooked right outside. We brought the propane cookers, the propane bottles, and we just set it up outside and started cooking and feeding people.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, on the streets here, many Joplin residents seemed stunned but resolute.

Roy Winands(ph) just put up a new deck and pool on the back of his house. He showed me where he and his wife hid from the storm.

Mr. ROY WINANDS: And we were just laying right beside that bed, tucked in underneath, and it came from right over off that tree, right over the top of this guy's house over here where it took them out, and like I said, it sound just like a big old freight train coming in about five seconds.

GLINTON: Winands says he and his wife were lucky to have survived, but...

Mr. WINANDS: We're going not to rebuild here. We've already made up our mind that we're leaving this area.

GLINTON: The storm appears to have taken everything but his sense of humor.

Mr. WINANDS: We were talking about moving. Didn't move soon enough, did we? What can you do? You might as well laugh a little bit. You're going to cry too, you know? We've been crying on and off, just 21 years gone.

GLINTON: The only thing left standing was the deck that Mr. Winands built. He now says he'll rebuild it all somewhere else.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Joplin.

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