With widespread tornado damage leaving parts of Joplin, Mo., unrecognizable and the death toll up to 160, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has deployed into an area suffering great loss.
“We’ve got chaplains that are headed in tomorrow,” said Keith Stiles, BGEA deployment manager. “As far as intensity, (the damage) is like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, except a smaller area. To have over 100 deaths in that small of a community is incredible.”
News reports say devastation in Joplin will cost over $2 billion over 2,000 buildings were completely destroyed and another 5,000 to 10,000 were damaged by a F5 twister that ripped through around dinnertime Sunday.
The nine-story hospital heavily damaged by the twister, claiming five lives, may have to be completely rebuilt as the Associated Press reports a top hospital official saying “it looked like a bomb went off on every floor.”
“People are numb,” Stiles said of what a victim’s initial state of mind. “If their homes are complete destroyed they’re probably not there. Where are they? We don’t know.
“You’re trying to figure out where the damages are. The first 72 hours is basically just chaos.”
Besides the mass casualties — the 160 deaths marks the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947 — over 990 people have suffered injuries and 17 people were rescued from the rubble, according to Weather.com. The numbers are even more staggering considering Joplin, Mo., is a community of just 50,000 people.
“The intensity of the trauma is so much greater when you have that many fatalities,” Stiles said.
Adding to the emotional chaos, another severe storm swept through Joplin Tuesday night, forcing residents to take shelter, even though some were already living in shelter. Fortunately, Joplin was spared any tornado damage this time.
“Samaritan’s Purse said there were tornado sirens going off last night,” Stiles said. “They had 150 people in the basement of the church where they had set up. It was a frightened night for them, on top of all the trauma that they had already been through.”
On Tuesday, the Rapid Response Team, along with Samaritan’s Purse, closed up the Birmingham deployment and headed to Joplin as a corps of engineer made the decision to bulldoze the affected Birmingham areas with U.S. Army trucks in what’s called a “clean sweep.”
Eight Rapid Response chaplains continue to work in Tuscaloosa and will minister to the survivors for another couple weeks, according to Stiles.
The Joplin ministry may still take several days to fully engage, but Stiles and the Rapid Response Team are already praying for the affected families and hope to bring the comfort of Christ soon.
“When you pull into a place, and set up in a church, that’s just step one, then we have to figure out where do we go,” Stiles said. “It’s tedious and you just feel like you should be doing more.”
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