A Thank You from Joplin

June 26, 2011

A favorite memory from Joplin came in the middle of an uneventful afternoon in the Red Cross shelter.

A young girl turned 11 years old.

Because she and her family lost their house in the tornado, the shelter’s dining room provided the best place for a birthday celebration. To make the occasion special, a friend baked a cake and brought it into the shelter. The bright smile on the girl’s face demonstrated how happy she was that someone remembered her birthday.

When she saw me, she eagerly asked if I would like a piece of her cake. I said, “Yes, but only a small one, please.” She cut into the cake and handed me a piece three or four times larger than my definition of small.

I thanked her, honored to be including in her party.

As I ate the cake, I took special note of the girl’s sweet spirit. I imagined how she and her family had made other plans to spend the day in a completely different way. Not only did the tornado blow those plans aside, it destroyed the house where the girl and her family lived. Now, they were living temporarily in our Red Cross shelter. Read the rest of this entry »

Alana – An Inspiring Graduate Committed to Service

June 23, 2011

I first saw Alana as she began working as a volunteer in the Red Cross shelter. We talked briefly and I learned she was a high school English teacher.

On her first day she demonstrated that she was there to work hard. I watched as she completed her assigned tasks and then found other work to do. She swept the floor, moved boxes and served food. She later took it upon herself to organize the shelter’s library of donated books and to teach a girl how to shoot a basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

Nancy – An Inspiring Survivor of the Tornado

June 22, 2011

I first met Nancy in the dining room of the Red Cross shelter. I was about to be interviewed by a TV reporter, and just as the interview was set to begin, this woman approached. She didn’t say anything. She stood there smiling at me. By looking at her color-coded wristband, I knew she was a resident of the shelter, someone who lost her home in the tornado.

Not having the option of ignoring this woman, I asked how I could help. She said, “I want to talk to the reporter.” Being a public affairs officer, I knew from experience that those most eager to talk with the media are people who typically want to air a complaint. With the reporter listening, I inquired what was on her mind. Still smiling, she replied, “I want to tell her how great the Red Cross is and how much we appreciate what you are doing here for us.” Read the rest of this entry »

Marie – An Inspiring Volunteer and Storm Victim

June 21, 2011

Before the monster tornado struck, Marie was an active volunteer with the American Red Cross in Joplin. The night the tornado hit, Marie lost her apartment and most of her personal possessions.

Unhurt, she began driving through the debris towards help. Along the way, she helped others, even pulling an injured truck driver to safety. When the debris made driving impossible, she began walking. Along the way, she helped with the initial search and rescue efforts, checking to see if anyone needed help. Read the rest of this entry »

People Who Inspired Me in Joplin

June 20, 2011

I spent two weeks in Joplin, Missouri immediately following the EF-5 tornado that destroyed much of that small town. I was there as a member of the disaster relief team of the American Red Cross.

In Joplin I talked with many survivors of the storm. I toured the indescribable destruction inside the tornado’s footprint. I even became acquainted with several of the people who lost their homes and were staying in the Red Cross shelter.

The more I got to know the people of Joplin, the more I was inspired by them. Although they seemingly had lost so much, they were grateful for what they still had. Although they greatly appreciated the support coming from every part of the nation, they felt no sense of entitlement. Although they faced an uncertain future, they were hopeful and believed that better days would come. Read the rest of this entry »

Back from Joplin!

June 12, 2011

Photos inadequately capture the vast devastation and the human suffering caused by the massive EF-5 tornado that destroyed much of Joplin.

Three weeks ago tonight an extremely powerful tornado destroyed nearly 25% of Joplin, a town of about 50,000 in southwestern Missouri.

Killing more than 150 people, the EF-5 tornado ranked as the deadliest to hit the United States in more than 60 years. Listed as the seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history, it was also the 26th deadliest in world history. During the 20 minutes the tornado was on the ground in Joplin, 2,000 buildings were destroyed along the 13-mile trail of indescribable destruction.

I learned about the monster tornado from breaking news on TV and within minutes my phone started to ring. As media contact for the American Red Cross in Kansas City, I began fielding questions about the relief efforts already underway. That evening I was on the TV news, and by 5 a.m. the next day I was being interviewed live on TV in the Red Cross parking lot even before I stepped into my office. Read the rest of this entry »

My Week in Greensburg after the Deadly Tornado

May 4, 2010

Three years ago tonight an exceptionally violent tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, Kansas. With winds more than 200 miles an hour, the rare EF-5 twister claimed 10 fatalities in this town of 1,400. The tornado was 1.7 miles wide and it flattened nearly 1,000 homes and destroyed almost all businesses. Additionally, thousands of picture albums, family heirlooms and other irreplaceable possessions were lost forever.

For seven nights and eight days I represented the American Red Cross in its disaster relief efforts. My role as a Public Affairs Supervisor provided me with unusual access to the restricted areas. When I first parked my Red Cross vehicle, I walked through what was left of the town and saw firsthand the widespread devastation. Block after block after block, houses and businesses were gone. Thick steels bars were wrapped around the stumps of huge oak trees. Cars were upside down under layers of brick, wood and concrete. The drug store, the local café and the post office had been blown away.

I took nearly 500 pictures, though they inadequately captured the magnitude of the devastation. Without using clichés I found it difficult to describe the destruction. Yes, it looked like a war zone. From its appearance, the town could have been leveled by a huge bomb.

Community Connectedness

The people of Greensburg lost everything, or so it seemed to me as an observer. Yet they were grateful for what they had – their lives, their families, and each other. What impressed me most about this rural Kansas community was the incredible human spirit. These hardy individuals rose to the occasion. Despite their loss, the townspeople stood strong. From across the nation, they were surrounded by strangers who were united in one common cause – helping the storm victims to heal and to rebuild their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

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