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From rubble to rebuilding: A year in Joplin, Mo.

JOPLIN, Mo

A year after the tornado hit Joplin, Mo., killing 161 and injuring hundreds more, much of the debris has been cleared and damaged homes wiped from their foundations. Some have been rebuilt; some never will be. Around the community, the devastation from a year ago has been replaced with plans to rebuild, renovate and recover.

Here are some snapshots:

DEBRIS REMOVAL/REBUILDING. The ghostly moonscape left behind by the EF-5 tornado was made more eerie by months of debris removal that took away piles of rubble, leaving rows of foundations and little else. More than 8,000 residential structures and businesses — the vast majority of them homes — were damaged or destroyed, directly affecting at least 17,000 people.

Big-box retail chains have rebuilt and are open for business, and smaller shops along Rangeline Road, the city's main strip, have also returned.

Once-bustling St. John's Regional Medical Center — reduced by the storm to a dangerous shell that had to be demolished with the help of a wrecking ball — is being rebuilt as "Mercy Hospital Joplin."

More than 600 permits for new homes and nearly 3,000 permits for residential repairs and rebuilding projects have been issued.

Overall, American taxpayers are expected to supply about $500 million in recovery money in the form of federal and state disaster aid, low-interest loans and local bonds. Almost one-fifth of that money has been paid to contractors who hauled off an estimated 3 million cubic yards of debris.

SCHOOLS. The tornado damaged or destroyed 10 public schools, including Joplin High School. Tuesday's anniversary ceremonies included groundbreakings at three schools — an elementary school, a middle school and the high school scheduled to reopen in 2014. As their school was demolished and ground prepped for rebuilding, high school students attended class in a converted big-box store at the city's only shopping mall.

INSURANCE TOLL. The storm caused about $2.8 billion in damage, making it the nation's single costliest tornado since at least 1950. The insurance industry has paid about $1.5 billion in homeowners, auto and commercial property claims related to the tornado. The state insurance department expects insurance payouts of about $2 billion by the time all claims are settled. While the outpouring of assistance pales in comparison to the assistance after Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado and its financial fallout has raised fresh questions about the government's role in disasters.

SAFE HOUSES. When the storm hit, thousands of residents took shelter on the ground floor of their homes or businesses, shielding themselves in bathtubs or under mattresses. The rocky soil underneath Joplin isn't ideal for building basements, so many are now turning to "safe rooms" — fortified rooms built to withstand a tornado's worst winds. Safe rooms are surging in popularity.

PETS. An untold number of pets were lost in the storm, but eventually there were about 500 reunions of animals and their owners. A month after the tornado, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Joplin Humane Society found permanent homes for 745 pets during an "adopt-a-thon" event — drawing more than 5,700 people from 24 states. Several owners named their new pets Joplin, while others opted for MoJo and JoMo, shorthand variations of the city and state names.

LANDMARKS. The tornado was so wide and powerful that it erased many of the landmarks that gave locals a sense of place and direction. Whole neighborhoods were flattened. Broad-shouldered trees that had stood for decades had their limbs sheared off and were stripped of their bark. The most common tools used by residents — street signs and signal lights marking key intersections — were blown away. A year later, many have yet to be replaced.

© 2012 Associated Press

From rubble to rebuilding: A year in Joplin, Mo. 05/26/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 4:30am]
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