Joplin, Mo., Searches To Put Life Back Together

In Joplin, Mo., the search operation continues with hundreds of firemen and volunteers and dozens of trained dogs, as they comb fields, ponds and ruins. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

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Now, to the ongoing recovery effort in Joplin, Missouri. The search operation involving hundreds of firemen and volunteers and dozens of trained dogs continues to comb fields, ponds and ruins. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN: Joplin, Missouri day six post-tornado is a cauldron of heartbreak and relief, a time of looking forward and looking back, of people trying to be normal in the midst of extraordinary.

LAHMUDDIN LAHMUDDIN (Imam): Lord, O, Lord of the universe, our Father is with you. Let this cup of marriage become a beautiful example to other couples...

GOODWYN: At the Holiday Inn meeting room, the families of the beautiful bride, 24-year-old Neelam Asma and her young bridegroom Faisel Chaudry, gathered to watch them marry. Asma lost her wedding dress and her home to the F5 monster that destroyed Joplin. She didn't want to go through with the wedding, but her steadfast fiance bought her a new dress and Imam Lahmuddin Lahmuddin did the honors.

Mr. LAHMUDDIN: Despite our situation and condition here in Joplin, these two families get together today.

GOODWYN: That's the trying to be normal in the midst of the extraordinary, and there's plenty of that. But there's still an abundance of tragedy too.

Ms. LINDY MOLINA: My name is Lindy Molina. I'm looking for my sister. Her name is Melissa Crossley(ph). She lived at 2523 Empire.

GOODWYN: Lindy Malina is looking for the coroner. The story she's heard is that her sister's neighbor emerged from what was left of their home and found her sister lying on top of her sister's nine-year-old son.

Ms. MOLINA: They were face-down on the door and she had her arms wrapped around him. And when they moved her - supposedly she was already gone - but my nephew made it.

GOODWYN: Her nephew was saved by his mother but barely. The boy suffered a broken jaw, broken collarbone, broken hip and broken leg and was badly cut up. But Molina's sister's body has not been found and it is tearing her up.

Ms. MOLINA: If that was her, I need to know for sure. But if it was her, you know, I have comfort knowing that she did the ultimate thing a mother would do, which was give her life to save him.

Mr. GEOFF YUNGER (Sheriff's Deputy): I think they smell something rotting in one of the yards up here on Mississippi Street. So, we're not sure. Could be a dead dog or who knows.

GOODWYN: In a field near Mississippi Street behind a big box store, Deputy Geoff Yunger and canine cadaver teams are searching for human remains.

Mr. YUNGER: You guys go ahead and start heading up there. I'm going to take the canine with me.

GOODWYN: Unfortunately, the dog teams did find more bodies Saturday.

(Soundbite of crunching footsteps)

GOODWYN: In the heart of the disaster, the center of the tornado's path, survivors are trying to look forward while desperately searching for the past.

Mr. CHARLIE WILLIAMS: Look it here.

Unidentified Man: Found Allen, all right.

Mr. WILLIAMS: All right.

GOODWYN: Charlie Williams found his wedding ring buried in rubble so deep it was like a needle in a haystack.

Mr. WILLIAMS: My wife's going to be happy.

GOODWYN: Williams and his wife and two dogs survived by lying down in the hallway. Their house was annihilated. They've lived here 30 years and friends and family want to help them rebuild but they're never coming back.

Unidentified Man: We're going to rebuild so you won't have to move to Lamar. Live with us.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I'm going to tell you one thing; my wife says no. We ain't rebuilding here.

GOODWYN: President Obama is coming to Joplin today, a plan that Charlie Williams endorses.

Mr. WILLIAMS: I think he needs to see this, because this is one of the worst storms hit ever in the United States. And so, yeah, he needs to see this. He's the president.

GOODWYN: Five hundred and twenty-three people have been killed by tornadoes this year, the most since 1950. But this bloody month of May 2011 is almost over.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Joplin.

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