JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Electrical crews hoisted power poles, small businesses opened in tents and residents snatched up construction supplies as rebuilding got underway nine days after a tornado tore through southwest Missouri. “We are open. Pray for Joplin,” read a sign Tuesday outside a pharmacy offering customers free water, coffee and diabetic meters.
Cleanup from the tornado that carved a 6-mile swath through the city of about 50,000 will be expensive and environmentally delicate. Environmental officials have already warned of potential hazards, including gasoline leaks and asbestos used in the construction of old homes. But with debris removal to begin today, residents have started looking ahead.
Among the most evident signs Tuesday was the reopening of a Home Depot flattened by the 200 mph winds of the EF-5 twister. Employees in orange vests and aprons helped a steady stream of customers with sales of lumber, roofing materials and other necessities. There wasn’t much to choose from yet, but Home Depot promised a 30,000-square-foot temporary building was already framed and would open within a couple of weeks.
Until then, people could pick up the most urgently needed supplies, piled on the ground and tables in the old store’s parking lot.
“The products we have are what the community needs,” store manager Steve Cope said. “We’re trying to let people know we’re not just a retail store to take their money. We’re here.”
It will be a long time before Joplin completely rebuilds. An estimated 8,000 homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed, along with hundreds of commercial buildings, schools, the largest hospital, power transformers and other infrastructure. But the work has begun.
Just a few blocks from where St. John’s Regional Medical Center was hit, Darren Collins had already put up walls and a roof to rebuild his wife’s beauty salon, Cutloose. Collins, who works as a contractor, said he wanted to get his wife’s business going so he could turn his attention to the long list of jobs he has lined up elsewhere in the city. He said he hadn’t anticipated what the salon’s reopening would mean to so many people.
“I had one guy slam on his brakes and come over and give me a big hug and say what an inspiration it is to see somebody rebuilding,” Collins said.
The rebuilding effort will get moving in earnest today, when crews will begin trucking rubble to one landfill in Lamar and two in Kansas. Gov. Jay Nixon announced the start of debris removal at a news conference Tuesday but wouldn’t estimate how long it would take or what the cost would be, other than “tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Whatever the final figure is, the federal government will pay a greater-than-usual share — 90 percent, as it agreed to do after deadly storms in Alabama in April, Nixon said. The state and local governments will share the rest.
The Environmental Protection Agency will oversee removal of hazardous debris, a delicate task since asbestos, oils, hospital waste, industrial supplies and other hazards are mixed in with everything else.