Meet Linda Conrow.
One minute, she had it all.
Mere moments later, everything was gone.
Two months ago, a devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through her home and the city of Joplin. The house in which she had spent the last 32 years of her life had become a massive pile of rubble. Her car was damaged and nearly all of her personal possessions were gone.
“I had spent every minute I had making my home the way I wanted it,” Conrow said. “(And then) it was gone. I just got sick to my stomach.”
Her family, including her mother and siblings, lived nearby and share a similar story. All of them have been waiting to wake up from the nightmare they’ve been experiencing since May 22, the day one of the most destructive tornadoes in United States history ruined their neighborhood and their way of life.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and a week later, President Barack Obama visited to offer support and make a commitment to restore Joplin.
Today, volunteers are still working to help rebuild a town whose spirit never faltered even though their homes and businesses did.
“When I was cleaning up my property, I was amazed to see people coming from everywhere, walking with rakes and pushing wheelbarrows,” Conrow said. “They didn’t know me, they didn’t ask who I was…they just came to my property and starting working. It means a lot that people care.”
You can’t walk 20 feet in Joplin without finding someone else who has lost everything, so Blues' Director of Community Relations Renah Jones organized a bus trip with nearly 30 St. Louis Blues, Scottrade Center and Peabody Opera House employees to offer assistance.
“It was a no brainer for us,” said John Urban, the team's Executive Vice President of Events and New Business, who cleaned up debris on Thursday. “The fact that everybody came together as part of the company, just doing it together is what made it extra special.
"We all saw all the pictures (of the damage), but to drive through those neighborhoods and see houses completely ripped off their foundations while other houses were standing perfectly, the devastation is (both) miraculous and heartbreaking at the same time.”
Urban was joined by other staff members in cleaning up debris, carrying it to the street so it could be collected later by other relief organizations. Meanwhile, Louie traveled to the YMCA in downtown Joplin to entertain children before making a visit to Freeman Hospital to visit patients and bring gifts. Other Blues employees sorted donations at the home of Misty Lindquist, an ordinary citizen in Joplin who offered to do laundry to help those affected by the tornado. Within weeks, her home and property has become the largest donation center in Joplin and offers clothes, furniture, toiletries and more to people in need.
While the Blues staff was only there for a day, many volunteers have experienced much longer stays in Joplin. Abby Simons, who works with AmeriCorps St. Louis, has been helping with the relief efforts since May 23, the day after the tornado struck. Through AmeriCorps, Simons and her team have coordinated the assistance of more than 46,000 volunteers.
“This is one of the worst tornadoes that I have ever seen. I could look around the disaster area and see absolutely nothing standing. It was hard to look at,” Simons said. “But it’s amazing to see the work that we’ve done is going back to the community that we’ve helped and coordinated volunteers for. We want to make sure they’re getting back on their feet.”
More than 150 people have died from the storm. Others are still in the hospital attempting a recovery.
Building Operations Manager Dave Iacono assisted with the cleanup Thursday, but he's been involved in relief efforts before. He cleaned up damage from Hurricane Katrina but said the damage in Joplin was the worst he has ever seen.
“In a hurricane, you know it’s approaching and you know the severity and scope of the area that will be hit,” he said. “In a tornado (like this), you have minutes to react and that’s why there are so many fatalities.”
Thursday's effort marked the second time the Blues organization has banded together to help Joplin. Earlier this summer, Blues players organized a food drive that collected 13,192 pounds of food that provided more than 10,000 meals for people in need.
Michael McCarthy, CEO of St. Louis Blues Enterprises, said he was proud of the effort put forth by members of the organization.
“The homes that have been affected and the people we’ve seen that have been in this situation, it’s impossible not to feel for them,” McCarthy said. “This could have happened to anybody anywhere in the country. The idea that Americans, St. Louisans and Blues employees got together to make this kind of effort is something we’re all very proud of. ”
Although her daily life has changed, Conrow still gets up every day and goes to work. For now, she's living at her mother's house, which is now liveable thanks to many repairs and hard work from volunteers. She could rebuild her own home, but said that at 62-years-old, that's probably too much effort for her. Instead, she plans to buy a house once some become available.
There's no telling exactly how long that will be. There's a lot of work left to do, but Conrow said she holds out hope that she'll have her own place in Joplin again.
“Joplin is home,” she said. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”Help is still needed in Joplin. You can assist AmeriCorps by calling the volunteer hotline at (417) 625-3543 or the donation hotline at (417) 625-3542. You can also visit www.stl.unitedway.org or www.211missouri.org. If you would like to volunteer to sort donations at Misti's Mission, go to www.facebook.com/MistisMissionJoplin.