June 22, 2011 —
by Donna Dossett
At about 5:41 p.m. CDT on Sunday, May 22, 2011 Joplin Missouri was struck by a devastating EF5 multiple-vortex tornado, the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947, currently claiming at least 151 lives. Since that day, a huge outpouring of support has flowed into Joplin to help the victims.
Members of New Life Worship Center, Bryan, Ohio organized a relief effort to collect supplies and aid, filling a semi with vital needs for a community that had literally been leveled to the ground, and sending a team of volunteers to offer assistance. Local resident Chuck Dossett of Hudson had the opportunity to travel with the church’s team seven days after the deadly F5 twister struck. Dossett’s wife Donna, a former member of the Bryan church, saw via Facebook what her old friends were doing and quickly shared the information with him. “We had both seen the news and felt so sad, so helpless. That could have been Hudson. Our hearts went out to the people of Joplin. We had nothing to offer them monetarily but Charlie (unemployed since last August) has some time on his hands, and he was happy to join the volunteer team and their call for help.”
Over a thousand volunteers
Once in Joplin, the team reported to the Joplin Community Worship Center to sign in and register. Within the first week after the tragic storm, it was reported that over a thousand volunteers from 15 states and numerous churches had signed in at Joplin Community Worship Center to offer assistance. One man Dossett met said he rode his bicycle all the way from Texas just to offer his help. A makeshift “mini-Walmart” had been created inside the church sanctuary to sort and house pallet-loads of food, water, diapers, baby formula, toiletries, medicines and other crucial supplies. Each volunteer was required to wear some form of name badge in order to identify themselves as volunteers. Some of the organizations that volunteered provided t-shirts for each volunteer with their names printed on the front, for easier identification. Once signed in, some of the volunteers assisted inside the church with sorting donations, dispensing food, water, first aid supplies and other physical needs to the community. Other volunteers, some armed with steel toe boots, gloves, fresh tetanus shots and chainsaws, visited personal property sites in order to help remove trees, locate personal belongings, and offer much needed emotional support to victims. Communication was mainly through mobile phones—when connections were available—and teams went wherever they were called and requested to help.
In mid-to-high ninety degree temperatures and smothering humidity the church’s team of volunteers spent four days with chainsaws, rakes and shovels helping Joplin residents dig out in what was called “The DZ” (Damage Zone.) “There was a stench in the air of rotten, previously refrigerated food and small dead animals,” recalled Dossett. “Once a home, building or vehicle had been searched for survivors they were marked with a large “X” signifying the progress of the search.” The team helped distraught families sift through the rubble of their homes trying to salvage any memories, important heirlooms or valuable trinkets they could find. It was a slow and emotionally painful task to locate as much as possible from the debris before bulldozers would be dispatched to clean up the remains.
One day’s tasks required moving elderly residents from an assisted living apartment building. The building had lost most of its roof and had suffered a lot of water damage. While they still had some electricity, there was no air conditioning. The heat, humidity and smell of mildew was almost unbearable. Using trailers, u-hauls and any other means available, the residents and their belongings were all moved to safer shelters until repairs could be made.
Spirits were strong
“Overall, the spirit of Joplin was strong,” said Dossett. “They were filled with so much thankfulness and gratitude. They were thankful for every single person that came to help them. I heard ‘God bless you’ countless times each day.” Many times grateful victims would try to offer volunteers money or valuables in exchange for their help, but the offerings were kindly turned down. “We didn’t drive twelve hours to come and help people for payment. They have lost everything.”
Tearfully, Dossett spoke of a particularly touching encounter: “One gentleman caught my attention because he was wearing a USMC shirt and, being a former Marine myself, I just had to strike up a conversation with him. He told me how he saw the massive tornado coming and knew he couldn’t possibly escape its path. Frightened and having no other family, he huddled on the floor with his two dogs and kissed them goodbye, awaiting his fate. Luckily all three survived the storm.”
Dossett also heard of a man and his two children who had literally been hurled a long distance in their bathtub, in which they had sought shelter. All three lived. Still, another story heard by a fellow volunteer was of a two year old boy found alive in a latched cooler. Finding the young boy alive was a miracle in itself, but when asked how he got in the cooler, the boy replied, “When the wind started to get me, the winged man put me in it.” There were hundreds of stories to hear.
Heartbreaking. Humbling. Life-changing; words Dossett uses to describe what he witnessed. “Television media and news coverage do not do justice to the reality and depth of devastation.” In our society we have all become so desensitized to damage we see on television—whether in movies or on the news—it just doesn’t seem real, therefore it doesn’t affect us. When you’re standing in the midst of the rubble, turning 360 degrees and everything as far as you can see is in ruin it really sinks in fast. To put it in a more familiar perspective, imagine everything from Jonesville to Hillsdale, or Osseo to Hudson, or any other 6-8 mile stretch being nothing but piles of matchsticks and kindling, twisted metal and sheer desolation. Vehicles were tossed and stacked everywhere, as if someone took handfuls of toy cars and just threw them across the floor. Trees were stripped not only of their leaves and branches but even their bark, leaving Jurassic-like skeletal trunks behind. All laws of physics ignored as a garden hose was found literally threaded through a tree and boards went THROUGH walls, like darts. A neighboring Home Depot store was only recognizable by the colors painted on the building. Through all of the devastation and despair however, there always seemed to be an American flag. Flags were hanging from poles, buildings, cranes, and other unlikely places as a reminder to all of the American spirit, even during such a tragic time. It was unimaginable.”
We can only hope that we never have to experience such a tragedy here in our own community. But if we do, let’s just pray that we also get to experience the same gestures of charity, love and volunteerism from surrounding communities and states, as Joplin has. Joplin Missouri has a long road to recovery ahead, and help is still needed.
How to help
If anyone is interested in lending any sort of aid to Joplin, contact your local church, community organizers or the American Red Cross to discover ways you can help. You can also check out New Life Worship Center on Facebook to find out more information. They are currently organizing a second semi and volunteer team. You can also see hundreds of pictures taken by the volunteer team.
On a personal note, the Dossetts wish to thank Mike Sanborn and the Hudson Pharmacy for donating several first-aid kits for the team. “We realize it was extremely short notice, but appreciate that they answered the call and offered their support.”