Joplin trip an ‘overwhelming’ experience |

Joplin trip an ‘overwhelming’ experience

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – As she settles back into the retail routine at her consignment shop, Cheap Thrills, Deborah Herrell still tears up when she recalls her recent trip to Joplin, Mo., with a semi-load of relief supplies.

“It was a nightmare,” she said of the devastation left by a deadly tornado on May 22 that reportedly killed 153 people, left thousands homeless, and scoured an area one mile wide and 14 miles long of buildings, homes, autos, trees and just about everything else in its path.

On the other hand, she said, “There were volunteers everywhere. Everyone we met was a volunteer.”

Herrell, along with her 13-year-old son Luke, and friend Tiffany Diaz and her two daughters, Danielle, 15, and Bella, 14, left for Joplin on June 5 to meet up with a tractor-trailer full of supplies.

Herrell spent the previous week and a half spearheading an effort in Glenwood Springs to collect donations of specific items to aid Joplin residents, find transportation to haul the goods, and get money and fuel donated to get the truckload on the road.

Jim Condon of Glenwood Springs volunteered his semi truck and his time to drive the rig to Joplin, and arranged to use a semi trailer donated by Show Motion of Denver for all the goods.

Herrell and her entourage met Condon in Joplin on the morning of June 7. They unloaded the supplies into a warehouse, and then threw themselves into the ongoing effort to help survivors deal with the aftermath of the storm.

“We put on our work gloves and asked, ‘What do you want us to do?’ ” Herrell recalled.

It was a whirlwind of activity as they were sent to various locations to help people dig out.

The went to one house standing nearly undamaged in the middle of a neighborhood that had been leveled, where the occupant was sitting in a lawn chair next to a cooler.

“She had a real blank look to her face,” Herrell said, “like there was nothing going on. I couldn’t believe she was living out of a cooler.”

Pitching in, the volunteers helped clear away a huge three that had jammed up against the woman’s front door, so she could get back inside.

At another house, this one completely destroyed, the occupant said she needed to find her mother’s dishes, which were in a box somewhere in the pile of rubble that had been a home.

It was Luke who found a plate from the set, which lead to finding a box with the rest of the dishes.

“The only thing we were able to save was that box of dishes. They weren’t even chipped,” Herrell recalled with amazement. “There was nothing else that survived.”

They found the family’s Bible, soaked and with pages ripped out, and handed it to the woman.

“She took the Bible and went like that (making a gesture of tossing something aside) and said, ‘God wasn’t here.’ We all got chills,” Herrell remembered. The Bible is now at Herrell’s house, drying out.

At a demolished Home Depot, Herrell said, the store’s management had set up a huge tent, giving and selling things, under a sign that read, “Together We Will Rebuild Joplin.”

There were hand-scrawled signs everywhere, offering warnings about hazards or letting the world know who had survived and was all right, and who had not.

“One sign told of a woman who had died,” Herrell said, tearing up again, “and it said, ‘She’s now in Heaven with Jesus and Elvis.’ She must have loved Elvis, and she would have liked that.”

The group left Joplin on the evening of June 8 and returned to Colorado the next day, grungy and sobered by what they had seen.

Both Herrell and Diaz said the experience had quite an impact on the teenagers.

“The kids just kept saying, ‘We’ve gotta do more, there’s so much work to do,’ ” Herrell said about the time spent in Joplin.

“I think they learned to appreciate what they have here,” Diaz said. “They wanted to help more than we were able to. I know they felt good about doing it, they enjoyed it, but I think it was overwhelming, the sadness and everything.”

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