In the Face of Destruction

Today, we (AmeriCorps NCCC team Sun 6 based out of Denver) started our disaster relief work alongside All Hands Disaster Response.  We are one of two NCCC teams deployed to St. Louis and are sharing a makeshift shelter and work with Earth 2.  While today was not strenuous work, it was mentally and emotionally taxing. 

We headed out to Berkley (a small area East of the St. Louis Airport) to do damage assessment and make our presence known to the area.  The tornado (now being called the Good Friday Tornado) took out an area about two blocks wide that stretches on for miles.  While a lot of focus has been on the St. Louis Airport and some richer neighborhoods to the West, Berkley has more retirees, lower income families and families struggling to make ends meet. 

As we wandered down the streets, clipboards in hand, we were met with scenes of destruction.  Trees ripped out of the ground and put through houses.  Whole houses, now a pile of rubble.  Trees stripped of limbs, which now lie scattered across lawns (or neatly in piles by the street).   Cars crushed beneath trunks of trees. 

 Beside us were the St. Louis Disaster Response Team (DRT), a State funded branch of the AmeriCorps State and National program.  The members of the DRT were some of the first to respond to the tornado, some of them getting the call to respond the night that it hit.  For the past week, they have been working in neighborhoods clearing trees and debree. 

 Despite it being a Monday, many of the home-owners (or tenants) were around to talk with us and share their stories.  A lot of them were older, living with their sons and daughters or on their own.  They expressed their relief of being able to still be here and their thanks for our work that has yet to be done. 

 One older gentleman that we talked to (he was “four-score and four” years old, or 84 for us who don’t speak properly) lives alone and talked for several minutes about his experience.  He just got back power a couple of days ago, but still does not have a working phone or “working girlfriend” (aka: the TV). 

 One man we talked to had barely any damage to his house, despite the massive tree in his back yard that lost all its limbs.  Both of his neighbors houses had some major damage, but he was lucky.  After the storm hit, he made sure his family was okay before venturing out to see how his elderly neighbors fared, only to find that one of them was now trapped in her basement because the house shifted about 6 inches off of its foundation, wedging both doors shut.

 One lady we talked to was literally thrown down her basement stairs when the front windows shattered and the wind rushed in.  Her daughter, a refugee from the Alabama tornadoes, is now living with her. 

 Despite all the destruction that we witnessed, the people of St. Louis were and still are extremely lucky.  There were no deaths due to the Good Friday Tornado and only a few serious injuries.  Despite all of this, it will take a lot of healing for this city, especially the neighborhoods that we experienced, to recover. 

God Bless and PEACE

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