With video: Joplin tornado destruction hits home for Saline woman and Washtenaw County relief workers
Standing on Tuesday at an intersection six blocks from her childhood home, the sheer magnitude of the destruction hit home.
Gilmore could not recognize a thing. She knew that her return to help family and friends dig themselves out of the debris and heartache would be difficult, but the F-5 tornado that tore through the town on May 22 left a trail of nothingness that is difficult to imagine.
Gilmore is just one of many former Joplin residents who have returned to help their families deal with the destruction. But there aren’t only people coming to Joplin; volunteers have been pouring in from across the country.
Ann Arbor resident Lonnie Sussman, a member of the Red Cross disaster response team from Washtenaw and Lenawee counties, has been in Joplin since early last week. She’s been incredibly impressed with the volunteers who have arrived.
“You cannot believe the number of volunteers who have shown up here,” Sussman said. “People just show up after driving their trucks halfway across the country, and they’re here to help.”
Gilmore said that many of her friends from Joplin have coordinated their volunteer efforts over Facebook.
“It is amazing for keeping everyone in touch,” she said. “And just letting everyone know what needs to get down here and where it needs to go.”
Sussman said that Facebook isn’t the only thing coordinating relief efforts. The local Red Cross chapter in Joplin had an emergency plan that went into effect less than 10 minutes after the tornado struck.
“Within a couple days the Red Cross had set up a Multi-Agency Relief Center (MARC) in a building called ‘The Bridge,’” she said. “It was amazing because in one place people could register with FEMA, receive aid from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, eat a meal, check for mail with the Post Office, and receive emotional counseling.”
Sussman added that there were additional faith-based and philanthropic organizations outside the center with boxes of food and clothes for residents.
Gilmore’s family lives about six blocks from the main path of the tornado and managed to escape unharmed.
“My brother and his family were sitting in their bathtub with their motorcycle helmets on,” she said. “I was watching the Weather Channel and called him as soon as I could once the storm passed.”
The biggest shock for Gilmore, Sussman, and everyone else in Joplin is the scope of the destruction. According to Sussman, the path of the tornado was equivalent to the entire stretch of Washtenaw Avenue all the way from Ypsilanti to central Ann Arbor.
“Picture that whole stretch and a quarter mile on either side of it, and flatten it,” Sussman said. “Every car, every tree, every store and twist it, smash it, throw it around.”
Both Washtenaw County residents say that the level of helping and giving has been tremendous. Both also realize that there is still a lot of work left to be done.
“People need to know it’s going to be years of rebuilding. A third of the town was simply destroyed,” Gilmore said.
“Just because it’s out of the news, don’t forget to think about them the after-effects are going to go on for a long, long time.”