NJCCA and Joplin, Missouri
The New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association has a long standing tradition of public service and community involvement. To our annual gift backpacks for disadvantaged students in Newark, our Holiday childrens book drive, our support of volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and our collections for the Food Pantry of New Jersey we can now extend our reach to Joplin, MO.
On June 24, NJCCA Board Member Giuliano Chicco, with an entourage of 16 teenagers (and three other adult chaperones) set off in two vans for Joplin, Missouri. On May 22, 2011 a highly destructive and deadly tornado tore through the town of Joplin, MO, leaving a debris path several miles long and nearly a mile at its widest. The death toll exceeded 150, and continues to rise, thousands of homes were destroyed, as were a major regional hosital and several schools. So you don't need to run for a map, Joplin is located in the Southwest corner of Missouri, on the boarder with Kansas and Oklahoma, approximately 1,200 miles from Princeton, NJ.
After a two day drive through ten states we arrived in Joplin. Actually we were guests at a summer camp in Oklahoma, and shared the camp with the normal summer campers. The camp was only a four mile drive from Joplin, so it was a relatively easy commute to the worksites. A number of national assistance groups were on site including FEMA, Americorps and The Red Cross, but the bulk of the cleanup work is being done by volunteers, from local and regional churches, associations and civic groups. Since our group was mostly teenagers, we were prohibited from working in the debris field by the national groups, where they require volunteers to be at least 18. As a result we did most of our work under the direction of local church groups, who were less fastidious about age and abilities.
On Sunday, our first day on site, we were assigned a home in a fairly upscale neighborhood. Our assignement was to take down what walls were still standing and clear all the debris and dump it within twenty feet of the curb. Fortnuately we had a small backhoe to help with the heavier debris. Most of the clean-up effort follows the same formula, clear the slab, dump all the debris within twenty feet of the curb, and separate wood, bricks. metal or trash. Very large trucks with a grapple come down the streets and remove the debris, and cart it to a landfill site in Kansas. The work was mostly with shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows, and we preserved for the family any personal papers, photos or knick-knacks that were not damaged.
The debris field, or path of the tornado, was astonishing. I've done relief work after Hurricane Katrina, and thought that I was familiar with disater areas, but I was unprepared for the breadth and totality of the devastation. There are some photos below, but you need to see the site in person to get a feel for the scope of damage.
We repeated this routine at several home sites, starting at 8 in the morning, breaking for lunch at the Red Cross tent, where they had tables, port-a-potties, and other amenities. Various local and national agencies had set up social services tables to help people with their claims, etc. There was even a representative from Accupuncturers Without Borders, which had a number of folks on recliners, receiving acupuncture for stress relief. The Red Cross was also serving hot meals to the numerous construction workers and volunteers in the area.
There was a large outpouring of donations from all over the country, including bottled water, food, and clothes. These have been piling up at various churches and local concerns. When it became too hot to work in the afternoon, we would go to one of several distribution centers, preferably indoors and air-conditioned, to help sort and organize donations.
Evenings were more relaxed, since we were able to shower and swim at the camp pool, have dinner, take Aleve and settle down for bed.