JOPLIN — The tornado that smashed Joplin on May 22 turned the city's housing market upside down.
Before the storm, the southwest Missouri city was a housing buyers' market. Now, thousands of newly homeless residents are snatching up homes that had been languishing for sale for months.
Kim Cox, of the Ozark Gateway Association of Realtors, told The Joplin Globe that 128 listed homes were destroyed in the May 22 tornado, leaving 1,427 homes for sale in the region.
The need is much greater. A preliminary assessment from the National Weather Service found that nearly 7,000 homes were destroyed and another 875 homes had some damage.
In the first week after the tornado, 163 homes were put under contract in Joplin — 10 times higher than average.
Real estate agent Jesse Bruce and his wife, Karen, are among the residents looking for a new home after losing theirs in the tornado. One of the first things Bruce said he did — before he had even secured all of his personal belongings — was to take out an advertisement offering his services.
"I got a lot of calls," Bruce said. "I got overwhelmed."
Josh deBerge, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it is too soon to know how many tornado victims are homeless.
"Our goal is to find those homes for residents as close to Joplin as possible," he said, then added: "But realize that is a pretty tall order."
The agency has identified 467 available rental properties within a 25-mile radius of Joplin and 1,400 within a 55-mile radius. Temporary trailers have been used elsewhere, although that is not always popular.
Cecilia Thompson, a mother of two, has been staying at the Red Cross shelter at Missouri Southern State University since the tornado destroyed her apartment. The possessions she was able to salvage from the wreckage before the apartment building was boarded up are stowed in a storage unit. She's under pressure to find housing soon because she'll be able to store the items for free only for a few more weeks.
"We've been driving around talking to people. Even FEMA has been trying to look for us, but we haven't found anything," she said.
Bruce, the real estate agent, said he can understand what many of the house hunters are going through.
"I am looking for a house currently, too, and that's been kind of difficult because houses are going quick," he said. "There definitely is a sense of urgency for displaced people."