Missouri National Guard responds to damage in Joplin

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 8:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — To Sgt. 1st Class Steve White, the scene in Joplin on Sunday night following the F4 tornado, which touched down hours earlier, was reminiscent of a war zone.  

"It looked a lot like when we showed up at the U.N. building when it blew up in Baghdad (in 2005)," White said. "It looked like a super bomb explosion."

White is a member of the 117th Engineer Team (Asphalt) of the Missouri National Guard. About 140 guardsmen were deployed to Joplin to provide security, control traffic and perform search and extraction missions, said Matthew Wilson, a Missouri National Guard public affairs representative.

"They will be here until all civilians are safe," Wilson said.

White arrived in Joplin with his unit at 9 p.m. Sunday and was at work in the city throughout the day on Monday. The scene hit particularly close to home for White, who grew up in Granby, just 25 miles outside of Joplin.

“I didn’t grow up in Joplin, but I was around it all my life, and I could not believe the total destruction we found,” White said.

White wasn't the only member of his unit affected by the devastating scene, witnessing an outpouring of emotion from many of his comrades.

"There were a lot of soldiers with tears in their eyes, including me, to see what destruction (the tornado) had done," White said.  

Throughout Sunday night and Monday, members of White's unit dug through the rubble in search of survivors, which involved heavy lifting and a great deal of patience.

"Our mission is search and extraction," White said. "We go in and move the concrete and move the steel and try to look for people that aren't found right away."  

White said his unit was very successful in terms of both response time and results. 

“Response was great," he said. "We were the first guard unit on the ground, and we were in Joplin within an hour of notification to travel. And people just kept coming in.”

This influx of relief along with the help of Joplin residents made the task a little more tolerable for White. Even after seeing parts of their city flattened before their eyes, White said the citizens of Joplin were selfless in their behavior.

"The people have been great," White said. "I saw peoples' homes and cars destroyed, and they were still out helping their neighbors." 

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