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07.19.2011
Hope in Joplin
The arduous task of rebuilding a tornado-ravaged Missouri town begins.
Joplin, Missouri suffered extensive damage from tornados this year.
Gunnar Hand

Last week, the first in a series of community meetings was held to initiate a planning process to rebuild Joplin, MO after the devastating May 22 tornado. Mike Rohr, Joplin City Manager, said, "We have been overwhelmed by the volunteerism and involvement in response to the tornado. We would like to see this carry over into the planning segment of the recovery process.”

The EF-5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 5) tornado destroyed a mile wide swath of southern Joplin, MO. In its wake it left 159 dead and approximately 8,000 properties destroyed, including 500 businesses, 33 churches, 9 schools, and one of two regional hospitals in the cities of Joplin and Duquesne as well as Jasper County.

After nearly two straight months of cleanup, the area ravaged by the storm has mostly been leveled, leaving assorted piles of rubbish, concrete foundations, and stripped trees. On June 22, the City of Joplin put a 60-day moratorium on all residential reconstruction to allow debris trucks and utility crews to complete their work. The moratorium was put in place to expedite the clean-up efforts before the local match for debris removal is adjusted from 10 to 25 percent on August 7, 2011. Local leaders fear that if widespread clearing continued after the adjustment, the $3 million per day costs would bankrupt the City.


 
 

Before the first community meeting on July 12, decision makers and concerned citizens formed the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team that will provide expertise and coordinate community input throughout the reconstruction in six areas: Infrastructure and Environment, Housing and Neighborhoods, Schools and Community Facilities, Economic Development, Sustainability, and Community Vision. Brian Ross, Community Development Specialist for the Harry S Truman Coordinating Council, the local regional planning council, explained, "The intent is to create a bottom-up approach where residents have a say in how their neighborhoods will be redeveloped."

Thus far, $509 million has been paid out from insurance agencies, and with an estimated $3 billion in damage, the path to recovery is long for the Joplin metropolitan area. A majority of local residents did not have insurance and with no guarantee of public assistance in the future, some are beginning to sell their parcels to private developers and leaving town. Additionally, Joplin High School, which currently lies in a flood-plain, needs to be rebuilt, and St. John's Regional Medical Center, which will be demolished after a direct hit from the tornado twisted the building from its foundation, is considering moving across the City.

With these huge planning issues at stake Joplin has the opportunity to change its future for the better. Based on the initial feedback of its citizens there is a desire to rebuild a safer and more sustainable city to honor all that was lost. “The City, State, and Feds have and will continue to put an incredible effort into making Joplin a better place," Ross said.

Gunnar Hand