The devastation in Joplin is unbelievable, heartbreaking and hard to describe. I have never seen anything like it and hope to never again. The twister tore a path a mile wide and six miles long through the main part of town. It impacted hundreds of businesses and destroyed over 2,000 homes. More than 120 people lost their lives and over 800 people were injured. Scores remain missing or unaccounted for.
Over the past several weeks, in the wake of several disasters that have affected Missourians and others, USDA, FEMA and the entire federal family have been working with state and local officials to provide relief to those who need it most. At the direction of President Obama, who will visit Joplin over the Memorial Day weekend, USDA continues to help residents, farmers, ranchers and businesses.
On Thursday, May 26, I joined Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for a tour of the tornado damage, followed by a community response meeting. “The entire state of Missouri stands with the people of Joplin,” said Governor Nixon. “We are putting every available resource in place to help families and businesses cope with the aftermath of this devastating storm. This meeting is the first step on a long road to recovery; but we will be there every step of the way.”
Claire McCaskill, United States Senator for Missouri, toured the area earlier and said, “You get a sense of devastation through pictures, but in person the scope is overwhelming. I can’t imagine the pain of families who’ve lost loved ones.”
USDA Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse visited parts of Missouri just a few days before the tornado struck. He thanked local residents and community leaders for their resilience during the floods, and helped direct UDSA’s efforts to respond to the floods. On the ground, USDA agencies continue to dig in to help.
Even though Joplin is on the threshold of 50,000 people, we are seeking waivers so that USDA Rural Development programs can be used to the maximum for individuals, families and businesses in the community trying to recover from this disaster. I’m working with Governor Nixon and his key state agencies, FEMA, SEMA and other emergency/recovery entities to provide services to those affected. The Governor has been in Joplin everyday this week and has been in close communication with President Obama on multiple occasions and continues to work on coordinating federal assistance.
Through the Rural Business Program, Missouri had guaranteed five different businesses in the Joplin community. Most devastating was the Greenbriar nursing home, where 11 folks lost their lives in the tornado.
Bell Management Company—which provides management services to 64 multi-family housing (MFH) projects financed by USDA Rural Development (RD)—is based out of Joplin. Their office building seems a total loss.
I know one family that lost their home, their car, their possessions, their personal identification and records, as well as their jobs. They worked at St. John’s Hospital, which was destroyed.
We will continue to work with our partners to meet immediate housing needs; we are surveying USDA Rural Development-financed apartment complexes for vacant units across Missouri and neighboring states. We are also coordinating this effort with the Missouri Housing Development Commission to assist displaced individuals and families.
USDA offers a variety of resources for states and individuals affected by the recent disasters. Individuals also can apply for other types of federal disaster assistance by calling FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 or by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov. Please visit the Missouri USDA Rural Development website for additional information: http://www.rurdev.gov/mo/.
My heart goes out to all of those who lost loved ones as well as to those who are suffering through this historic disaster. USDA will continue to help communities and individuals work to recover and rebuild their lives.