Traumatized Joplin on edge as more storms rake Missouri

Reuters News
Posted: May 25, 2011 6:33 PM
Traumatized Joplin on edge as more storms rake Missouri

By Elliott Blackburn

JOPLIN, Mo (Reuters) - Traumatized residents kept a wary eye on storm clouds hanging on Wednesday over the shredded remains of a large portion of this city.

Chainsaws and hammering could be heard in the neighborhoods surrounding the hardest hit areas three days after a devastating tornado ripped through this town of 50,000, killing 125 and injuring at least 823.

Residents took advantage of hours of sunlight to check their property and clear debris. But as adrenaline and shock faded, residents near the damaged zone described a fear of every rumbling in the wind.

Overnight, another wave of killer tornadoes roared across the Midwest, leaving at least nine people dead in Oklahoma, four dead in Arkansas and two in Kansas, officials said.

And on Wednesday, several fast-moving, strong storms raked Missouri, triggering tornado warnings all across the state.

Jerry Harris rode out 200 miles-per-hour winds with his daughter in a closet in his friend's homes, which was all that remained of the residence after the storm passed.

The 42-year-old had years of training as a 911 dispatcher, he said, but felt panic the next morning when he heard the rumbling of a heavy truck.

"It just scared me to death," Harris said.

Now, he is obsessed with having all his children around during storm warnings to assure himself they are safe.

Rick Rice, a 57-year-old truck driver, said he would never again dismiss the sirens he ignored Sunday. He had continued to remodel his bathroom as the tornado approached. The storm left his home uninhabitable.

Now he spends his day monitoring the Internet for weather updates haunted by the roaring of the wind.

"When I hear the noise, I can't get it out of my mind," Rice said.

Even residents who missed the worst of the storm changed habits. Greg Salzer, a 37-year-old social worker, watched the tornado from a safe distance. He and his wife restocked their storm shelter the next day with shoes, important papers and dog leashes.

"We spent Monday going through the storm shelter cleaning," he said.

On Wednesday, he was helping his uncle, 66-year-old Frederick Dalton, clean debris not far from a ruined hospital.

Dalton said he had walked for blocks after the storm to find his wife safe at a destroyed church.

The Joplin tornado on Sunday was rated an EF-5, the highest possible on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado power and intensity, with winds of at least 200 miles per hour.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher)