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Operation Joplin Recruiters
Babs' Story
Three MarineParents staff members drove down to Joplin with a trailer on May 26th to deliver the furniture, household goods, clothes and toiletries and present the family with a check. Each recounts their experiences from that day.

"When I first heard about what happened in Joplin I couldn’t believe it. I could feel my stomach in my throat. When I got to work I later found out there was a recruiter stationed in Joplin that had lost everything but his kitchen table, washer, dryer, dumbbell weights and some family photos. I could never image how they truly felt.

Marine Parents sent e-mails out to everyone and posted on the website that the Marine Recruiter was in need of help. People started donating, and soon we needed a truck and trailer to haul all of the goods to Joplin.

Jayne, Derek and I drive down to Joplin using Derek’s truck to delivery all the items. I was so excited but a bit nervous to see everything.

We were about five or so miles out of Joplin when we started to see huge highways just blown right over and then a car in the middle of a field that was completely totaled.

As we took the exit into Joplin we did not see much and I started to feel relieved that is was not going to be as bad as I heard. As we drove further I could see in the distance nothing but sticks standing straight up and down. Come to find out, the sticks were what was left of the trees—just the trucks with no bark left and just a few branches. My feeling of relief immediately turned to sorrow and sadness. As we got into the heart of the downtown area there really was nothing that was untouched by the tornado. You could see people standing on what was left of their homes, searching through the rubble to find what was left of their belongings. I was breathless and shocked as I looked down miles of the tornado’s path seeing nothing but parts of homes and businesses and just a concrete slab where a home once stood. Words could not describe everything I felt as I imagined what the Joplin community must have gone through.

We headed straight to the Shiwdin’s new house, and as we pulled up the family came out of the home across the street from their new house. It was the house of another Joplin recruiter. His house only had roof damage. The Shiwdin Family made their way over to us. We all exchanged names and shook hands, but they were shy and no one really talked except for the father. We unloaded the trailer and truck and began to fill their empty house. We opened each of the tubs we brought that were full of household goods and clothing so the family could see what was inside. The contents of the tubs brought happy expressions to their faces, especially the kids. They were holding items up saying, “wow, this is neat” and “I like this.” It made me happy to know that we brought them some joy in such a sad time.

We stood on their porch and asked the family questions about when the tornado hit. SSgt. Shiwdin said they had heard about the tornado warning on the news, but they needed to run to the gas station to fill his car up so that he would be ready for work the next morning. As he and his wife drove home the sirens started going off, and as soon as they got in the house he told his two daughters to pull everything out of the closest so the whole family could fit inside. The closet was the lowest point in the house, half underground, and also where the washer and dryer were. Seconds after everyone was in the closet with the door shut, they heard glass breaking. Then they heard a big sucking sound—the roof being ripped off. They could hear car alarms and things just breaking and crushing all around them. The tornado lasted only a few seconds and then it was gone. From inside the closet they heard people screaming and crying, so they emerged to see almost nothing left of their house. Then they heard their neighbor let out the most piercing scream SSgt.....Shiwdin says he’s ever heard. The neighbor was crying, “Have you seen my children?” She had just run to the store and came back to a nothing but a concrete slab; the whole house was gone. My heart broke and I was near tears thinking about how that woman must have felt. SSgt.....Shiwdin said he will never forget the sound of her screaming.

Across the street there were more people screaming and crying, and he ran over to help a man extract his leg that was stuck under a pile of rubble. They got his leg out, but it was broken and the bone was sticking out. Without even stopping to think he let a perfect stranger use his vehicle to drive the man to the hospital. He said his vehicle looked like it was in a demo derby but it still ran like a champ.

The next thing they heard were big explosions from gas lines and a welding school’s tank going up in flames.

Right after the tornado hit everyone was helping everyone, and then before he knew it there was panic and looters everywhere. Since the hospital was hit by the tornado no one knew where to go or what to do with those that were injured. I think of how stranded they must have felt.

Before long the National Guard was there and triages were being set up all over so that people could get help, water and food and add people to the missing list. There was also a curfew set up for the area where the tornado hit so that no one could come into the area to loot. The two days following the storm were the worst because the streets were so full of rubble that vehicles couldn’t maneuver around it to bring help, but things were under control shortly after.

As soon as possible there were teams sent out to search for the missing and clear the streets of rubble. Every area got swept five times. The first group’s job was to remove bodies from visible areas. The next group’s job was to call into houses, buildings, vehicles and businesses to see if anyone was trapped and needed help. The third group went into the houses, buildings and businesses to see if there were any bodies inside. The fourth group started moving rumble around to look for bodies, and the last group dug all the way through every bit of rubble looking for bodies and would mark the areas with an X to show that they had been searched. Even vehicles were marked with an X. You could see that some of the people were sucked right out of their vehicles because their seatbelts were still connected. SSgt.Shiwdin said you’d think by the time the third group went out they would just be finding bodies, but they actually found several survivors as well. What a great feeling that would be!

He later heard stories from other people, such as one man’s son who was sucked right out of his sunroof and another woman’s husband who died saving her life because he lay on top of her in their bathtub to protect her.

Eventually conversation slowed and we didn’t want to take up any more of their time, so we said our goodbyes. The oldest daughter ran up and wrapped her arms around me to say thank you, and just like that we all gave each other hugs goodbye.

As we drove out of town we could see all the X’s SSgt. Shiwdin was talking about as well as the street names and speed limits spray painted onto the roads.

It was a sight I won’t forget for the rest of my life, and I hope to never see anything like it, but I suppose there’s no telling what mother nature has in store."

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