Joplin, Mo. -- In the wake of the nation's deadliest tornado in six decades, more than 80 AmeriCorps members are working night and day to assist first responders and victims in the recovery efforts in Joplin, Mo.
With the death toll at 126, more than 700 people injured, and thousands of structures destroyed, the EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin last Sunday flattened everything in its path, leaving residents to scramble to find missing family members and find immediate shelter.
AmeriCorps members have traveled from near and far to Joplin to help coordinate relief efforts. Among the first on the ground was a group from the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team, an AmeriCorps program that acts as a multi-functional rapid deployment group that has provided immediate and long-term disaster response to disasters in 29 states over the past 17 years.
As soon as word came of the devastation in Joplin, a team of AmeriCorps St. Louis ERT members packed their equipment and drove through the night to Joplin, arriving at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, not knowing where they would sleep but ready to get to work.
They quickly went into action to open a Missing Persons Hotline for individuals to register a profile of those who have not been accounted for after the deadly tornado. By 5:30 a.m., the AmeriCorps team had set up a 24-hour Missing Persons Hotline with the help of IT staffers at Missouri Southern State University.
Megan MacDougall, an AmeriCorps member who set up and is now overseeing the call center, said thousands of calls have been logged since the hotline opened. Callers give a detailed description of missing family or friends that goes into a database accessible to the Sheriff's Office, Highway Patrol, Family Assistance Office, and search and rescue teams. The Missouri Department of Public Safety, which oversees the missing person's effort, yesterday released a list of 232 individuals for whom an official missing persons report had been filed.
"We'll stay here until we're no longer needed,” said MacDougall, who hopes to find a job working on disaster relief when her year in AmeriCorps ends.
AmeriCorps members are also in the community, with teams of AmeriCorps members leading groups of 40-50 volunteers into Joplin to clear roads and debris to ensure first responders can maneuver effectively in search and rescue missions. AmeriCorps members are also registering and managing volunteers, overseeing a donation warehouse, and conducting needs assessments.
Stephanie Jackson, an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team leader from the Denver, is managing the donations warehouse at Missouri Southern State University. Her team, one of four NCCC teams in Joplin, had been working in St. Louis for the previous three weeks responding to the Good Friday tornado when they were redeployed to Joplin on Monday night. Jackson said her team got two hours of sleep the night they arrived by didn't mind as they were eager to get to work. “We couldn't wait to get here to help. It makes me feel alive and I know I am making a difference.”
Twelve AmeriCorps members from Skagit and Yakima counties in Washington State are also serving in Joplin. These AmeriCorps members, part of the Washington Conservation Corps, were redeployed from St. Louis and are assisting in the distribution center, volunteer intake center, and clean up efforts.
The AmeriCorps members in Joplin are part of a much larger national service response to the devastating floods and tornadoes that have struck the South and the Midwest this spring. Hundreds of AmeriCorps members and RSVP volunteers are serving in Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, is working closely with FEMA and state officials in Missouri and other states to effectively use national service resources. The agency is deploying four staff members to Missouri to provide assistance to deployed AmeriCorps service projects including project development, logistical support, safety assurance, coordination among voluntary agencies, and support in the various federal and inter-agency disaster offices.
“This spring has seen an unprecedented series of disasters for our country. I'm proud our national service participants have put their skills and training to work to provide critical assistance to our fellow Americans who are facing such devastation,” said Kelly DeGraff, senior advisor for disaster services at CNCS. “AmeriCorps members were on the scene within hours after the tornado struck, and we'll be there for the long haul.”