Although the Joplin relief team members from Tyler were made up of all different types, the reaction by all 32 members of the team were almost identical. “This just doesn’t seem real,” different members of the team found themselves saying over and over again or “I can’t believe what I saw,” as the group from Tyler pitched in to help Joplin continue to recover.
Marshall Grace, a retired Goodyear worker and others had difficulty understanding how they could find complete destruction on one side of a street and seemingly no damage just across the same street. “Some places looked so bad and yet right across the street it was amazing that those houses and businesses didn’t seem to be bothered at all.”
The team from Tyler arrived in Joplin around 3:15 Friday morning and upon arrival were advised, by the National Guard, to find an alternate route to their destination as the “disaster area” had been shut down after dark for curfew. The group made their way to Carl’s Junction Baptist Church family life center and gym where they attempted to sleep as much as possible before an early 6:45 departure time.
Working on two hours sleep, the team took their assignments and moved out into the heart of Joplin to finally see the results of the damage first-hand.
For a while, things in the city looked no different than any other city that had suffered a strong thunderstorm and high winds. However, once you hit the swath where the actual tornado touched down, things looked drastically different.
Houses were damaged to various degrees, there were trees, but they didn’t look like normal trees. “It makes you think, how hard must the winds be blowing,” said 17-year old Logan Zedlitz, “I mean, the bark is blown right off the trees.”
The winds of the tornado are said to have been in excess of 200 mph two weeks ago Sunday when the tornado dropped in on Joplin, and was one of the worst tornadoes in American history.At one point, the team was asked, by the daughter of an elderly couple, to help clean up as the couple had no insurance, the team accepted the invitation and began to help the uninsured home owner clean up to reduce some of the financial burden.
Behind the damaged house, there was a stump pulled part way out of the ground by the high winds with exposed roots as much as a foot around. The limbs and tree had been cleared away, but the damage was still visible. A backyard that was once shaded by a huge oak tree was now exposed completely to the sun and elements.
The view from the back yard was very much the same, as workers could look out from the hilltop residence and see house after house with extensive damage. It was another instance that was shocking to so many of the workers who had prepared to see damage, but until they actually saw it first hand, had no idea really what to expect.
The team moved from the elderly couple’s home toward Joplin High School where again, they were shocked at what they observed. The High School looked to be damaged beyond repair. Debris littered the practice field next to the school. Sheet metal that had previously covered walkways and roofs on the high school were now bent and wrapped around trees across the street from the school.
The twenty foot fence that had formed the backstop for the baseball field was almost doubled over in half now, back towards the home stands where spectators likely had watched games just weeks prior.
Moving from the high school, the team next approached St. John’s Regional Hospital, which before the disaster hit, made plans to care for those hit hardest by the massive twister. However, the hospital itself was directly in the path and hit. The multiple-story building was supposedly hit so hard by the high winds that the building itself was moved off its foundation.Although shocked at what they were seeing, the team from Tyler did what it set out to do. Amid the destruction, piles of debris and at times even the smell of what hopefully was only dead animal flesh, the team helped to give a hand up to a hurting community and shared love with those they came in contact with. In all, the team worked to clear hundred of pounds of debris, made up of tree limbs, shingles, bricks and anything else the wind had decided to toss wildly that day. Specifically, the team helped families to move on, to put the devastation behind them and allow them to move forward.