Scattered Stories

On the 22 May 2011, a F5 tornado hit the city of Joplin, MO.  Within the hour, the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) had left the tornado clean-up in their own home town and begun their journey across the state.  The following morning, Sun 6 and Earth 2, two AmeriCorps NCCC teams based out of Denver, followed in their wake (alongside the remaining ERT members responding to the tornado). 

As we arrived, almost 24 hours after the tornado hit, we were met by weary and exhausted volunteers who had yet to sleep after the initial response.  Many were flowing just on adrenalin after working for over 24 hours streight, some had not seen sleep in over 48 hours. 

And like that, we started to get organized.  AmeriCorps main job is running the Volunteer Resource Center (VRC), managing volunteers and entering data into the system.  We have been maning the phone-lines, working in the field, answering questions, and showing people where to go. 

And the volunteers started to pour in.  At this point, over 4000 intake forms have been processed (with over 1000 remaining), hundreds of missing person reports have been filed, and thousands of volunteers have helped out in the field, the warehouse (relieving donations), answering phones, and entering data into the system.  Hundreds of people have poured out from the community to serve, and with them comes the stories of heroes and bravery, fright and confusion. 

Last night, I received the opportunity to pull my first all-nighter.  All throughout highschool and college, I found ways to sleep through the night, but it took a disaster for me to accomplish this feat.  I actually volunteered for it, so I can’t complain. 

Anyways, I was helping out with the data entry with a crazy group of individuals.  Each of them has their own stories, but I wanted to share a couple with the rest of the world. 

Two of the girls have a wonderful story.  They were convicted by the Holy Spirit to help out.  Well, they were watching a clip from Shane Claiborne where he was talking about how, as Christians, we should not run away from disaster, but run towards it to help out, when they found out about the tornado.  So, after some prayer and loading of supplies, they headed out. 

Well, they got talking about the homeless and how they could help when they came around a corner and came face to face with two young men.  Well, lo and behold, all four of them arrived at the VRC eager to work throughout the night and the next couple days. 

Another man who was working with me today is a certified paramedic whom was biking from the West Coast to the East Coast (Manhattan to San Francisco I believe?) and his journey brought him through Joplin, about 30 minutes after the tornado hit.  He told me that after all the people who have helped him through his journey (both life and the bike ride) it would be criminal for him just to keep going.  He has been here for the past couple days, constantly working. 

Another young man was working with us last night who shared with us that his house was completely destroyed, except for the four walls and the ceiling of the bathroom that he dived into when the tornado hit.  He is moving back in with his parents, but felt the need to volunteer (along with several friends) even though he was also a ‘victim’. 

It’s amazing to hear all the stories of these people who survived, that came here, that are volunteering their time.  So many times we just hear of numbers.  120+ dead.  17 survivors pulled from the wreckage.  1 mile wide path of destruction, 2 miles long.  4000+ volunteers.  We are not able to put a face to the story. 

We can’t see the young woman who was pulled from what remains of her house.  Nor do we see the face of the 5 month old, pulled from beneath a crushed truck to be reunited with his mother and father.  We don’t see it, because we are bombarded by numbers. 

There are thousands of stories of survivors.  Or victims.  And the difference between the two, between survivor and victim, begin to blur. 

I’ll leave you with one final story, from a man who worked in the data entry center for over 12 hours today:

He was visiting a family friend on the 5th floor of St. John’s Hospital when the tornado hit.  The F5 slammed into the hospital, stopping in its tracks for a brief moment, before surging through the building and racing across the town.  He emerged from the building out of a hole in the wall, only to turn back around and go back into the building, time and time again until he could no longer find people to pull out. 

Despite a ruptured natural gas line, structural damage and his own fears, he could not turn away from the sound of people screaming.  Doctors and nurses have called him a hero, but he just hopes that someone would do the same for him. 

It’s been several nights since, and he has yet to get to sleep, because once he starts to rest, all he can hear is the sound of the tornado, the glass breaking, and the people screaming.  He can still see the bodies of the dead, something that has changed him forever. 

You can hear the shaking in his voice when he talks freely about it.  How he broke down and cried when the nurses and staff came and thanked him.  You can see the fear because he knows what waits in his sleep. 

These are the stories that change us, that create us to whom we have become.  Nobody can live through something like this and claim to be the same person they were before.  So, when you pray for those affected by the storms, by the tornadoes that have swept across this nation, don’t think about the numbers, but each individual.  Each story.

God Bless and PEACE


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