Here is a post by Travis Marler, one of the participants from Brentwood who went to Joplin yesterday as part of a clean up crew, sharing his reflections on his experiences. Joplin will obviously be in need of assistance in the following days, weeks, months, and even years. Visit this page to stay updated on how you can most effectively help.
First of all, the damage is very, very bad. The tornado was about 3/4 of a mile wide, and virtually everything within that 3/4 of a mile–along a path several miles long right through the center of the city–is simply going to have to be bulldozed. The slate will have to be wiped clean and everything rebuilt. There isn’t really anything an unskilled laborer like myself (or most other people) can do within that area to help, except to to see it, empathize with those who lost everything and internalize what they must be feeling…to be them for a little while.
I went to Joplin yesterday with ten other people from Brentwood Christian Church, and a couple other churches. Before we ventured down into the destroyed area, we met a pastor at her church who gave us the names and addresses of some people who needed help cleaning up their yard. In the process of helping us with coordination, though, she shared some things about how the people of Joplin were feeling. The thing that struck me most, that I hadn’t thought of, was that there is a ton of survivor’s guilt hanging over the city right now. Many people are struggling to cope with the fact that a tree had fallen over in their yard, but less than a block down the street someone else’s “home” had no outside walls, no roof, and everything else was simply a pile of ruble in the center. Because of this survivor’s guilt, some people who had not taken the full force of the storm felt frustrated that crews were helping clean their yards instead of helping people who ‘really need it.’ It isn’t something to take personally.
Once we arrived at the home we were appointed to clean up, it was a pretty amazing sight. My team spent a couple hours cleaning up a ton of small debris in the front and back lawn of this woman’s home. Her neighbor next door had three or four huge trees downed in his backyard, one resting on his roof. About the time we finished cleaning up the first home, a group of five guys or so showed up who were a chainsaw team from Bentonville, AR. They were just driving around looking for people who needed their assistance. We partnered with them, and so with a group of more than fifteen people, we were able to cut down and remove almost all of the trees in a matter of about three hours…it’s hard to say how long it would have taken a group of only three or four chainsaw guys to do that. Not only that, but as we were working, at least two other groups stopped by to help us for a short while. It was simply an amazing site to look up and down the street and see all of these strangers stopping to help wherever they could. Not only were people stopping to help clear debris, but other groups were driving slowly up and down the street handing out food to anyone who was working. A Baptist group stopped to give us all a brown bag lunch. Others drove by shouting they had cold water. Also, there was a mobile group of nurses who came by to give tetanus shots. Yep, I got a tetanus shot out on the street curb. I’m good for another ten years, hehe.
Overall, it was hard work but an amazing experience. I would strongly recommend anyone in the Springfield area who is able to get connected with a church group or the Red Cross or another aid agency, and do your best to get over and help for a day. They need our help, and we need to talk to the people who live there. We need to hear them tell about their experiences, and we need to see how strangers from different places and backgrounds can come together to help one another.
If you are interested in helping, here a few tips I can give you:
1) Buy a pair of heavy work gloves to wear. The land is frosted with glass shards and splintered wood.
2) Bring several rakes, and a box of heavy duty trash bags. Again, people’s lawns are just filled with both large and small pieces of glass, wood, plastic, etc.
3) Be prepared for traffic congestion…think 76 Hiway in Branson on a Friday night in the summer.
4) Bring mentholatum (sp?) like Vick’s vapor rub or something…if you end up in the worst areas, the smell might be pretty bad.