Chapter Volunteers Help Out in Joplin, MO

On July 23 – 24, under the solid leadership of Pat Justis, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter members and volunteers headed Joplin, Missouri to assist in general clean-up efforts. Eleven of us arrived at the well organized volunteer center and were quickly put to work clearing debris and organizing clothing.

Chapter Volunteers before work started

The news coverage outside of Joplin has not conveyed the magnitude of the destruction that took place or the ongoing needs of the people of Joplin. Try to imagine neighborhoods about three times the size of Forest Park simply scraped off the ground. For blocks and blocks, nothing remains. Wind speeds exceeded 300 mph – some of the highest winds every recorded. Sewer pipes were lifted out of the soil. A concrete framed seven-story hospital shifted 6” off its vertical, severing every joint and connection in the structure.

Today, debris piles line streets waiting for FEMA-sponsored trucks. The highest pile I saw was over three stories tall; matchstick ruins of people’s homes and businesses. All told, over 8,000 structures were deconstructed in about 12 minutes, 170 people lost their lives, and upwards of 20,000 people were displaced. The need for volunteers will likely go on into next spring.

Our group was surprised the that loss of life was not greater given the scope of destruction. At the 200 unit apartment complex we worked at, every building’s roof and second story was simply pushed off the first and strewn in the adjacent yards. How did only 1 person die out of 200 families in buildings that simply blew apart? Stories of real miracles abounded and I for one have no idea how so many peopled simply walked away from that evening. Our efforts at removing and sorting debris at times seemed futile given the need. We recycled metal and construction debris, much of which was being reused to make small sheds and temporary shelters. Some of us collected personal items- toys, photos, and medical records of past occupants. The Red Cross was leading an effort to connect personal items with their owners, most of whom lost all of their belongings.

Chapter Volunteers after working all weekend –
way to lend a hand!

Larger questions remain. Clean up is far from over. What to do with the remaining land is in limbo. Property values are baseless after so many people have moved away and the City has no idea if it will be solvent in a year for lack of tax revenue. Brand new schools were destroyed. This fall, children will be attending high school in an abandoned big box shell.

All given, it was an eye opening and educational trip. We helped in the clean up effort but much remains to be done. Our neighbors in Joplin will need help for months to come.

– Submitted by Chris Manzo, Manzo Architects and USGBC-MO Gateway Advocacy Committee Member

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USGBC-MO Gateway will likely organize additional trips to Joplin to assist with clean up. Please contact if you’re interested in being notified about the next trip.

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