Thoughts from Luke after a week in Joplin

Hello Everyone!  Well, it’s coming up on the end of my first week in Joplin after the tornado hit on last Sunday night. I wanted to give my friends an update on what’s been going on, and what I’ve been doing.

I got down here early Monday morning (about 3am early) after driving in from a visit with family in Kansas over the weekend. On the way down to Joplin I was amazed…I had never seen so many ambulances in my life. They were lined up and running with lights and sirens up to Springfield. Every few minutes there would be another 5 or 6 drive by. Remember, this is at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was terrified of what I would find when I got to Joplin. As I arrived, I drove down (what used to be) Rangeline, a major thoroughfare to the office here. What used to be a large commercial district with restaraunts, big box stores and strip malls looked like an open field with bits of debris thrown here and there.

When I reached the office I got an update. We had one large shelter open at the MSSU campus, and a conference call scheduled for the next morning with Red Cross leadership around the state and in Washington DC. We planned until about 4:30 or 5am…then we became overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by phone calls from loved ones of those affected wanting to know where those they cared about were and if they were safe…phone calls from folks wanting to help who were already in their cars from as far away as California…phone calls from those needing help or a place to sleep because they had just lost their entire worlds. All 4 phone lines were busy for hours on end while we answered what we could.

One of the hardest phone calls I have ever taken in my life happened that morning. A woman called in and asked if we had a list of those who were safe….and of those who weren’t. In a strong voice she asked how she could check to see if someone was on the safe list. When I told her how and she had already checked there, her voice cracked and broke as she asked the question that no one wanted to ask….how could she check to see if her brother was on the list of those confirmed dead. My heart broke, and even now a week later I’m still tearing up thinking about the turmoil she must have been going through, just wanting to know if her brother existed anymore.

Later that morning we were on a conference call with leadership in DC and around the state. Chris Harmon, our Director of Emergency Services started the call with “Ok guys, this is going to be big” – We decided to send in thte troops because we knew help was needed. Thank God it was ready, willing and able to respond. Over the next few days hundreds of American Red Cross disaster relief volunteers poured into Joplin. Each and every one of them ready to step in to help our neighbors, their spirits showing through.

One day we hit a particularly rough patch for local responders…3 of our Volunteers that are generally there the moment a disaster strikes hadn’t been heard from….and their homes had been in the path of the EF5 tornado. I didn’t know them particularly well, but I had an instant lump in my throat. I asked Brian whether or not we knew anything about them and his eyes welled up as he said “No, but they lived right behind St Johns”. Several times I said it to people, not knowing what had happened, and I could never actually get the words out. Even now, one remains unnaccounted for.

Amidst the grief and the horror of reality here, there are uplifting moments. I spent some time with a few volunteers who had lost their homes and all of their belongings to the storm. They were fortunate enough to have Renters Insurance that is covering their belongings and providing a hotel room for the next month. Even as we laughed and joked over dinner about different things, it was clear that things were starting to sink in, and they knew that the road ahead would be rough.

In the few short days since this tornado has hit, I have seen the community come together in incredible ways. Over 7,500 spontaneous volunteers have stepped up to help the relief, many of those are affected themselves. In just the day after, I received over 1,000 eMails from folks wanting to help any way they could. Churches, universities and business have given of their buildings, their employees time and their wallets to assist the relief efforts. As I walked into stores when I was back in Springfield for a night, I saw “Help Joplin” signs up in every single one of them. The generosity of the community makes me glad to call myself a member of the Ozarks.

As for me, I’ve been helping to support the 300+ Red Cross volunteers and employees that have been here providing relief to folks. I’ve been helping to ensure that they have a place to sleep (the community has donated this too…from Dormitories, to Staff Shelters, to donated rooms at the Downstream Casino) and money to eat with (although many places you go the wait-staff will shake their head and say “No, Red Cross doesn’t pay here”.)

Above all, I want to thank the Volunteers and the Community for the heard work they’ve been putting into this relief effort. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but Joplin has made it clear….Joplin WILL rebuild, and Joplin WILL recover.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.
Kristofer “Luke” Bolz
Chief Volunteer Services Officer and
Staff Planning and Support Manager
P.s. Should you find it appropriate to donate a few bucks, you can text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 on your cell phone bill, or go to RedCross.org to make a donation, or mail your donation to American Red Cross, 1545 N West Bypass, Springfield, MO 65803.

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