Joplin tornado leaves thousands with no place to call home

Reuters News
|
Posted: May 31, 2011 2:09 PM
Joplin tornado leaves thousands with no place to call home

By Kevin Murphy

JOPLIN, Missouri (Reuters) - It's been four shelters in eight days for Rosalee Wilson, one of thousands of Joplin residents left homeless by the massive May 22 tornado.

"I don't like it," Wilson, 71, said Monday as she stood by her cot in a gym-turned-dormitory at Missouri Southern State University. "You never know where anything is and just when you get familiar with a place you get uprooted again."

Wilson was among about 175 people who spent Sunday night at the Red Cross shelter, one of the many landing places for those who lost their homes and apartments in the tornado.

City officials estimated that about 8,000 houses and apartment buildings were destroyed by the tornado, which was rated an EF-5, or the strongest possible, and the deadliest single twister in the United States since 1947. The official death toll was last reported at 139 as of Saturday.

Federal, state and local officials have formed a task force to help people find temporary housing while Joplin rebuilds.

The plan is to find rental property within 55 miles of Joplin for displaced residents, said Susie Stoner, spokesperson for in the tornado recovery effort of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She said the city of Joplin will determine if trailer homes are an interim solution.

Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr said trailers are among options being considered. But he said he would prefer residents stay in or near the city rather than 50 or more miles away.

Wilson had lived in her house for 50 years and plans to rebuild. On Monday, she received word from her insurance adjuster that her house was a total loss and would be fully replaced. She is not sure where she will live in the meantime. The demand is expected to be strong for apartments.

"I can't imagine trying to find a place, there are so many individuals and families without a home," said Michele Nichols, who is providing a temporary home for her uncle, Robert Cole. His apartment was destroyed.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative told him on Monday he is eligible for two months' rent plus reimbursement for belongings in the tornado.

FEMA provides assistance based on several factors, including whether the resident has insurance, Stoner said. Homeowners with a mortgage almost always have insurance through their lenders, but renters often may not have any coverage.

Some tornado victims are staying with friends and family, some are in hotels, and a few are trying to stay in their houses despite severe damage.

Terri and Rich Weisensee are living in the dining room of their 106-year-old house, which may or not be salvageable.

"We're kind of camping out in here," Weisensee said, preferring that to being away. "It feels more normal here. Well, not normal, but I'm home. We are extremely fortunate. So many houses are gone."

Weisensee said she saw a neighbor on Sunday whose house was a pile of rubble. But he was still sweeping up.

"It's just sad," she said.

For people who have lost their homes, the hardest time is probably still ahead, said Jacob Hefner, a crisis intervention counselor at the Red Cross shelter. The first week has kept them busy cleaning up and applying for insurance or FEMA aid, but they face an uncertain future, he said.

"They are keeping their emotions close,'" Hefner said. "In a couple weeks when they reflect. It will affect them more."

But the strong presence of FEMA as well as state emergency management agencies has so far managed to keep the spirits up of people in the shelter, said day supervisor Angela Staton-Hunt.

"It's given them a lot of hope and that they can move on," she said.

(Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Bohan)