By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - Businesses destroyed in a deadly tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, in May are quickly bouncing back, with Walgreens cutting the ribbon on a store rebuilt in a corporate record of 90 days.
The tornado that hit the city of 50,000 residents on May 22 was the deadliest in the United States in more than 60 years, taking 160 lives and destroying about 30 percent of the town, including more than 500 businesses.
So far, 400 of those have reopened or are rebuilding, with Walgreens the first major retailer to finish. Nearby, in the same retail strip, a Home Depot store is operating out of a tent pending its own rebuilding.
"This was truly a Herculean effort by everyone involved," Ryan Kruger, a district manager for Walgreens, said in a prepared statement on Monday. "We couldn't be prouder to be at the forefront of the rebuilding efforts in Joplin."
The federal Small Business Administration has provided $10 million in loans to businesses and $23.7 million to homeowners in the rebuilding effort. All but about 5 percent of remaining business owners say they want to rebuild, said Kirstie Smith, communications director of Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We have contractors stacked with work and businesses waiting for their spot in line," Smith said.
The new Walgreens store is on the same spot as a store demolished in the tornado. Stores normally take six months to complete, but the new one was built in record time because it used the previous construction plan and received rapid city permitting and review, officials said.
Walgreens also reopened a second Joplin store on Monday that was extensively damaged in the tornado.
"They said they would be in business before the end of August and that sounded pretty bold, said Rob O'Brian, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "It's a great message and a great signal that national and regional businesses remain committed to this market."
Other businesses that are rebuilding include numerous restaurants, two Commerce Banks and St. John's Regional Medical Center, which will move to a new site about a mile from its hospital building, which the tornado severely damaged.
Joplin's public schools, which saw several buildings destroyed or damaged, opened on schedule last week. Many students were attending classes in temporary locations, with 11th and 12th graders holding class in a vacated store in a shopping mall.
Meanwhile, the school district got a boost on Sunday in California when an auction of singer Sheryl Crow's 1959 Mercedes brought $130,000, with proceeds going to Joplin schools.
The sale price was announced on Monday by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which is overseeing fund-raising for more than 20 different needs in Joplin, including school buildings and supplies.
"It was thrilling," said Louise Whall Knauer, senior vice president of the foundation. "The estimated price was $50,000 to $80,000."
Crow is a Missouri native and former teacher. The identity of the winning bidder was not revealed.
(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston)