Finding A Disaster's Economic Silver Lining The weather this spring has been a tough one for residents and businesses in the Midwest and South. Violent tornadoes, flooding and even droughts have taken their toll. But while some sectors of the economy may have a tough time for a while, others are starting to boom.
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Finding A Disaster's Economic Silver Lining

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Finding A Disaster's Economic Silver Lining

Finding A Disaster's Economic Silver Lining

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NPR's David Schaper reports on the economic impact of an unusually harsh spring of tornados, floods and drought.

DAVID SCHAPER: In the days after a powerful tornado leveled a quarter of the city of Joplin, Missouri, it was difficult to tell what once was there.

MONTAGNE: This was my dad's dental office here that we're looking at.

SCHAPER: Sifting through the piles of rubble, Matthew Shelby tries to explain what this dental office used to look like.

MONTAGNE: There was a second floor here. We had three exam rooms.

SCHAPER: There's little left now, except a foundation and debris, and Selby says his father isn't sure yet whether he'll continue his practice.

MONTAGNE: You can imagine, when you've been building something for 41 years and just have it gone in one afternoon, the kind of emotional toll that probably takes on you. But he's promised to get back working, either somewhere else, renting something, or rebuilding.

SCHAPER: In addition, widespread flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries idled barges, delaying shipments of grains, oil and other commodities. Riverboat casinos were shut down, laying off workers and biting into the tax revenue sent to local and state government. And millions of acres of farmland were, or still are, under water.

MONTAGNE: From about Missouri south - Missouri, Illinois south, along the river - we thought we had about three and a half, 3.6 million acres of crop land that were affected.

SCHAPER: Bob Young is chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

MONTAGNE: But probably a greater extent of crop loss would be the drought going on in Texas and Oklahoma, in terms of overall crop loss.

SCHAPER: But Young says crop insurance will cover most losses, and good weather this summer could still turn things around for many growers, so he says it's too early to tell if what he calls a weird year, weather-wise, will have a significant impact on the agricultural economy.

MONTAGNE: I think for the overall scheme of things, we'll feel it, we'll know it happened, but I think we'll be able to go on from there.

SCHAPER: And economists say that tends to be what happens after natural disasters. David Mitchell of Missouri State University says even in a terrible weather year such as this, there may be little lasting negative effect.

SCHAPER: In the very, very short run, it can have a very localized impact on the economy, but it's not very likely to have a large impact on t he national economy.

SCHAPER: Back in Joplin, work is already underway to get people back to work. Spokeswoman Kirstie Smith says the Joplin Chamber of Commerce is helping business owners find phones, computers or even office space for that dentist whose building was leveled. Smith says the loss of life and property in Joplin is still overwhelming, but...

MONTAGNE: At the risk of sounding insensitive, this tragedy really is an opportunity for Joplin.

SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News.

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