As we Honor Memorial Day, Thanking the Heroes of Joplin

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As part of the FEMA team, we see a lot of disasters. Each is unique and yet, surprisingly similar. Across the board, disasters are devastating. Whether they touch one person or 1,000, lives are changed forever.  There is heartache. And there are heroes.

This spring has been particularly harsh. Much of our country has felt the cruel wrath of nature.

Joplin, Missouri is among the latest examples.

Last Sunday, an EF-5 tornado brutalized an estimated one-third of Joplin, a city in the southwestern corner of the state. So far, more than 130 lives have been lost. Search and rescue efforts continue but there is worry that more victims will be found.

I went to Joplin to look, to listen, and to see what FEMA can do to help. Amid the shock, sadness and fear of the unknown, I found amongst the survivors great resilience and a determination to recover.

So many people were focused on helping their neighbors when they, themselves, had lost everything. Like Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles. Thankfully, the most important thing to him – his family – survived. Everything else Chief Randles had is gone. Yet he's tirelessly worked to help find survivors, suppress fires, and meet the challenges of a community in need.

There are others, too. I saw first responders dig through rubble in hailstorms and blinding rain to search for and rescue survivors. Volunteer and faith-based groups have fed, sheltered, and comforted many. They’ve helped move debris that stretches for miles.

Businesses have brought in food, water, equipment and supplies. They’ve provided free phone calls or Internet access to help family members and friends find one another. They’ve washed clothes. They’ve powered lights. And they’ve brought hope.

Local leaders truly stand out as well. They’ve provided calm and decisive leadership. They've listened. They've asked for help when it was needed. Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr is among those who have led by example in the face of heart-wrenching adversity.

The state and federal governments have marshaled numerous resources to support Joplin and help give it a fighting chance to recover.

Response and recovery in Joplin has truly been a "whole community" effort. Lives have been saved, and there are so many great examples of what individuals, business owners, volunteer organizations, and government can do when they work together as a team, even under the toughest circumstances.

As we say thank you to everyone on the ground in Joplin, this Memorial Day weekend, we honor those in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice and say thank you to their families for their service.

Last Updated: 
06/16/2012 - 19:56

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