On May 22, Joplin, MO, was hit by a powerful tornado, resulting in the destruction of 70 % of the city and (so far) 122 confirmed deaths. According to Joplin Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer, 1,500 people are still not accounted for.
At the same time, the National VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) conference started in Kansas City, 2 ½ h away from Joplin. Three Tzu Chi volunteers who were at the conference in Kansas City, as well as five volunteers from Chicago and local volunteers from Kansas City and Joplin met up in Joplin on May 24. The Chicago volunteers brought blankets and other relief goods, and volunteers from the National headquarters brought emergency cash cards for immediate relief to affected families.
Local restaurant owner and Tzu Chi volunteer Amy Yen closed her restaurant to use her kitchen to cook for the disaster survivors staying in the Red Cross shelter the day after the disaster. When the volunteers from Chicago arrived, they immediately started helping Amy and her staff to prepare and pack hot meals, to bring to the Salvation Army's distribution center. During these two days, Amy and the volunteers prepared around 700 lunchboxes for tornado survivors.
When the volunteers from Kansas City arrived an hour later, they joined the Chicago volunteers to visit the Red Cross EOC, set up at the Ozark Christian College, where the Red Cross representatives were happy to welcome the volunteers, and offered them to set up a table at the center.
After a brief visit to the Red Cross shelter and Americorps volunteer reception center at Missouri Southern State University, the volunteers continued to the disaster site at the St John Regional Medical Center, close to the touchdown site of the tornado. There was no way to prepare for this scene of complete destruction. The cars in the parking lot were thrown around like toys, and looked like they had been hammered by sledgehammers. All windows of the hospital and several of the roofs were blown out and lifted off the buildings. Around the hospital, there was nothing but destruction as far as one could see – all trees that were not pulled off the ground, were stripped of branches, leaves and skin. Not a single house was unharmed – roofs, walls and whole floors were scattered around the site.
The group then drove through the disaster area, with over 2,000 affected homes. For the half an hour drive, everyone saw nothing but destruction, houses blown to splinters, trees scattered everywhere, cars thrown around like toys.
The team of Tzu Chi volunteers plans to prepare and distribute more hot meals on May 25, and they will conduct further assessment tomorrow to determine where, when and who to distribute emergency cash cards, blankets and other relief goods.