Residents Of Joplin Say Looting Is 'Just Wrong'
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Many people in Joplin, Missouri lost nearly all their possessions in the tornado last Sunday. Now, to their dismay, looters are prowling the town looking for anything of value. Compared to the staggering destruction wrought by the tornado, the losses to looters are tiny. But for the people of Joplin, the looting is adding insult to injury. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.
FRANK MORRIS: On the night of the tornado, as emergency responders rushed from one shelter to the next, Steve Dixon sat outside his father's destroyed home with a baseball bat.
Mr. STEVE DIXON: They wouldn't see me sitting here in my chair, I was in the dark. I'd turn my bright spot light on them and tell them they needed to move on. Then when the police back by, I'd tell them which way they went.
MORRIS: Lots of people here tell similar stories. The following day, Claude McDowell was checking on what remained of his roofing business east of town.
Mr. CLAUDE MCDOWELL: We run somebody off up here. They was actually stealing a Romex wire out of one of the duplexes up here to melt it down after for the copper. I mean, we was really furious about that. He's lucky he got out of here in one piece.
(Soundbite of train whistle)
MORRIS: Standing here on a heap of rubble over here by the rail road tracks in what looks like a lower income part of town. These were apartment buildings. When you start looking at these debris piles, they're full of useful stuff.
There's a nice looking ball point pen. There's a steel thermos. There's a brand new purse with the tag still on it. And there's a leather rifle sheath - looks like it's from the '40s or '50s. There are also tools. And those are pretty easy to sell if you steal them. But looters are after big stuff, as well as small.
Unidentified Woman: It was a Ford Focus, four doors, silver, nickel color.
MORRIS: People have been filing in here, Joplin's police headquarters, to report crimes.
Ms. LORI GEIER: We went back to our destroyed house on Tuesday morning and the truck was not there.
MORRIS: Lori Geier has searched tow lots. Many wrecks have been hauled away. Her truck was operational, though, and she's just reported it stolen.
Ms. GEIER: Act of god you can't control, but then to have somebody who is low enough - scum - to come in and victimize us again after we've already gone through this horrific - some people lost family members. And then somebody's coming in and taken stuff. I mean, that's just wrong.
MORRIS: Joplin police say crime has actually been pretty limited. As of midday yesterday, they'd arrested 16 people for looting and burglary since the tornado, four for assault. There are hundreds of officers patrolling here, sent from four states, and just about every town in Missouri. National Guard soldiers are here too, imposing a 9 p.m. curfew.
Linda Mehner lives in a cute little old house, apparently very well built. It's the last one standing here on this edge of the disaster area. She's camping here without electricity or safe water, keeping an eye on her devastated neighborhood.
Ms. LINDA MEHNER: I've seen a lot of policemen and a lot of sheriffs, even the state patrol here. Three o'clock in the morning, they shine their lights in a spotlight and I know they're out here. And they're watching. They're watching. They'll get them if they do it.
MORRIS: Mainer points out that almost everyone responding to this storm is here to help. She says the assistance has been steady and strong. As we talk, a truck pulls up.
(Soundbite of engine)
Unidentified Man: You need any snacks? We have snacks. We have lunch.
MORRIS: Mehner is originally from California, but says she plans to rebuild her little place in here.
Ms. MEHNER: We've got some good neighbors. They can take California. I'll stay here in Missouri, I like it better.
MORRIS: And that's the way a lot of people here think. Despite tornados, and a few despised looters, nearly everyone seems to love this friendly town. And most of its resilient residents are still here, though about a third of their workplaces and homes are gone.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Joplin, Missouri.
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