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Mission: Joplin – Is There Hope For The Future?

By Stewart McKenzie, CBS 11 News
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A group of people from churches in Fort Worth, Keller and Bedford left North Texas on June 27, 2011 to help with volunteer efforts in Joplin, Missouri, after a deadly tornado moved through on May 22, 2011. (credit: Stewart McKenzie/KTVT/KTXA)

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - It was after 8:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, May 22, when I started getting indications that something disastrous had taken place. I noticed a Facebook posting that said, “Please keep Joplin in your thoughts and prayers.” My brother guided me to a YouTube link of some of the first stormchaser and broadcast video from Joplin, in southwest Missouri. When I saw those images, I knew that a devastating tornado had hit the city of more than 50,000 people.

You don’t forget pictures like a mangled medical helicopter — that had been tossed by tornado-force winds — resting in front of a heavily damaged hospital.

It became apparent that this was a killer storm. It was an EF-5 tornado, the strongest tornado that meteorologists measure. The National Weather Service said that the winds from the tornado exceeded 200 mph. The death toll climbed to 158 people, making it the deadliest tornado in the United States since the National Weather Service began keeping such records in 1950. More than 1,000 people were hurt.

The National Weather Service said that the tornado was three-fourths of a mile wide and was on the ground for six miles. One-third of the city was destroyed.

In the days and weeks after the storm, there has been an outpouring of national support. It is estimated that more than 40,000 people from across the country have traveled to Joplin to help with disaster relief efforts. And North Texans continue to respond to the call for help.

This week, 67 people from four churches in Fort Worth, Bedford and Keller will travel to Joplin. Adults and teenagers from the congregations are volunteering their time to help with the ongoing efforts. The process of tearing down houses, picking up debris and distributing supplies is still underway. However, we have been told that the rebuilding phase has started. Homes that were damaged, but still standing after the tornado, are in line for roof and drywall work.

The days will be long for volunteers. Breakfast is at 6:00 a.m. We will be at our assigned to work sites from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. And the weather will be a challenge. The forecast calls for high temperatures, most of the week, in the mid 90s. It will be humid.

As I have prepared for this trip, I have wondered what it will be like to walk down streets that, earlier this spring, were vibrant neighborhoods. Do the images that we see on TV compare to witnessing the damage first hand? The weather aspect fascinates me, since I have a broadcast meteorology degree.

But the focus of this mission will be on the people. How are the residents of Joplin holding up more than a month after the storm? Is there hope? Or is there so much destruction in front of them that the people of Joplin find it hard to look towards the future?

Can volunteers help provide that hope for Joplin? What about the men, women and young people who are volunteering? Are we prepared for what we will see once we cross into the city limits of Joplin?

It is my hope that we will have internet access while in Joplin this week, to provide daily reports and pictures about the relief efforts. I hope you will come back on Tuesday as we get our first look at the work that is ahead for volunteers and the residents of Joplin.

(Note: Stewart McKenzie is the 6:00 p.m. producer for CBS 11 News. He is part of a local volunteer group traveling to Joplin this week to help with the relief efforts. While helping with those efforts, he will also provide reports on the work that is underway and the people of Joplin who are recovering from a killer tornado.)

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