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Red Cross volunteers reflect on work in Joplin

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 2011 - Corie Story returned to work at the Red Cross on Fri., June 3, having decided on a career in community service. She got what she wished for. Just days later, Story was heading off to Joplin where the deadliest tornado in recent decades had just hit and leveled much of the city in its path.

"I came back to the Red Cross, and all of a sudden I was being sent off," Story said.

Story had traveled to many other disaster zones, after smaller storms and Hurricane Wilma, which hit the Atlantic coast in 2005 as a category 5 storm. None of it compared to Joplin, Story said.

"It's like you're driving through a normal neighborhood and all of a sudden, (it's) like you walked into the desert," she said. "The air even -- it's dead air. You could just look out for miles. It's like King Kong came to town and stomped on everything."

With Hurricane Wilma, Story said, the storm randomly left buildings standing and the damage was more widespread, which is more common for hurricanes. In Joplin, where an E-5 tornado struck on May 22, homes were just flattened, she said.

"It just felt so deserted and kind of scary," she said. "It was very quiet."

Story, 32, started volunteering at the Red Cross at age 10. Now a paid staff member, she was sent to Joplin in her capacity as major gifts manager, working with companies that want to donate to relief efforts. She coordinates companies' visits to Joplin to present their donations and works with them to fill out any paperwork associated with their donations.

Story said the Red Cross is usually sent in first to spearhead immediate relief efforts. Many of their workers have since returned home since the tornado in Joplin was a month ago.

"As far as the Red Cross' function, because we're there for the first, immediate needs of people, it's kind of slow (now)," Story said.

But Story said the way the people in Joplin have come together to salvage their town can be compared to the way people came together after the Great Flood of 1993.

Aside from Story, eight other Red Cross volunteers from the St. Louis area were sent to Joplin, including: Albert Boucher of Fairview Heights, David Daly of Belleville, Karen Dunn of St. Charles, Sandra Mueller of Ballwin and James Ulbrich of St. Louis, according to a Red Cross press release.

Red Cross development coordinator Gina Trimboli, who works for the organization in southeastern Wisconsin, was also sent to Joplin, around the same time as Story. She said the photos cannot really capture the scene.

"I have to admit that the photos don't do (Joplin) justice," she said.

Trimboli, who was in Joplin from June 1-12, had never before been sent to a major disaster area for the Red Cross although she had seen flooding rattle Wisconsin towns in past years. Joplin left a big impression:

"You realize when someone said, 'I lost everything.' You understand what it actually means," she said. "It means everything."

Allison Prang, a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is a summer intern at the Beacon.

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