A year ago this week, a monster tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, leaving 161 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Miles of homes and businesses were flattened by the enormous multivortex storm, one of the worst recorded in U.S. history. Neighborhoods, schools and communities were literally blown away.
In 2011, Impact Your World focused on some of the many organizations that provided immediate assistance to the area, such as emergency shelter, supplies and assistance to victims and their families. A year later, most relief efforts have ceased, but Joplin is still working to recover and rebuild. Hundreds are still homeless, and the destruction of businesses left many owners and workers without income.
The city of Joplin estimates that almost 130,000 volunteers have logged hundreds of thousands of hours since the tornado, helping rebuild over the past year in what Joplinites have referred to as the "miracle of the human spirit." Americorps St. Louis, which matches needs with resources, has been responsible for coordinating their efforts.
What's still needed
Memories of the tragedy are still fresh in the minds of Joplin residents. Lynn Onstot, the city's communications officer, says now that storm season is back, many residents are finding themselves facing fears and anxieties: "Could such an epic storm hit us again?" To help them cope, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted funds to the Missouri Department of Mental Health for crisis counseling.
Although Joplin has worked fast to rebuild, many of the hundreds of businesses destroyed by the tornado have not been able to get back to full speed. The Joplin Chamber of Commerce stresses that the economic effects of a disaster like this can affect communities for years. It has created a charitable arm, the Business Recovery Fund, which raises money to help stabilize local businesses, fund building and retraining, and build a medical school.
One of the biggest problems Joplin residents continue to face is housing. A year after the storm, hundreds of families are still living in FEMA trailers and are unable to rebuild their homes. Rebuild Joplin works to construct housing for people whose homes were destroyed. It seeks donations and volunteers.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is getting involved by spearheading the Joplin Challenge in association with Habitat For Humanity. The challenge needs donations and volunteers to help build 35 homes to contribute to the city's recovery. Volunteers can also join players from seven local sports teams -- the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals; the St. Louis Rams, Cardinals and Blues; the University of Missouri Tigers; and Kansas Speedway in association with NASCAR Unites -- and build alongside their team.
Onstot says that as far as long term efforts are concerned, the Joplin Recovery Fund has been instrumental. It was established by the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. They have awarded 30 grants totaling $2.43 million since September for various causes including rebuilding Joplin, relief for tornado victims and improving disaster preparedness. They ask that donors note "Joplin Recovery Fund" on the fund program box online or on checks.
HLN recently featured a fundraising effort by Joplin expats Todd Green and Dave DuCille. Green is the president of Joplin Expats, and DuCille is the founder of Central Park Fitness. They are cycling from New York to Joplin to raise money for 20 storm shelters for families there. You can donate to their cause and follow their journey on their website.
Marking the anniversary
To mark the first anniversary of the disaster, Onstot says, everyone who has played a part in the city's recovery is invited to the Joplin Day of Unity. The day will include such activities as a walk along the tornado's path. The city has also developed a website that highlights other anniversary events.
Joplin welcomes everyone who would like to celebrate rebuilding efforts and play a part in the city's journey back from the storm.