GUEST COMMENTARY: Spirit of Joplin resilient after disaster

Monday, May 21, 2012 | 6:43 p.m. CDT

I served the people of Joplin for 14 years in the U.S. House. I live about 60 miles from Joplin, and I’ve been here hundreds of times. Having grown up in southwest Missouri, I’m also familiar with tornado damage.

But I’ve never seen anything like the aftermath of the tornado that barreled through Joplin on May 22, 2011.

For the past year, the rest of the nation has watched this community undergo a revival that can be seen not only in the rebuilding efforts of its infrastructure, homes, schools and businesses, but also in the spirit of Joplin.

A month after the tornado hit, the business community, led by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., unveiled “Joplin Tomorrow.” This effort to raise $10 million from individuals, companies and foundations seeks not only to restore the estimated 450 businesses that were damaged or destroyed by the tornado, but to also go beyond and expand Joplin’s business community by attracting new private sector job creators — placing the reins in the hands of the citizens and businesses most directly affected by the disaster.

Additionally, I authored an amendment that passed in Congress last year to help make critical resources available for Joplin, as well as the communities along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that were impacted by a number of natural disasters last year. This effort secured $400 million in total for the Community Development Block Grant program to aid with disaster relief and $45.3 million for Joplin directly.

Benjamin Franklin once proclaimed, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” In Joplin, we know that’s true.

Faced with unprecedented adversity, the city has let local businesses, citizens and the community lead the revival — and pave the way for a future that’s even more promising than before. According to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, nearly 450, or 80 percent, of affected businesses have already reopened.

The Wall Street Journal wrote on April 13, 2012, that the city is enjoying a renaissance, citing the reason for Joplin’s successes as “a bottom-up approach, allowing businesses to take the lead in recovery.”

The resilience of Joplin can be seen throughout the community, from the Joplin School District, which started its fall term on time, 87 days after the disaster, to Mercy Hospital Joplin, which opened its doors to patients at a new interim location only eight and a half months later, and the Walgreens, which rebuilt one of its Joplin stores in what it calls a record time of three months.

Southwest Missourians have taken on this challenge to restore what was lost and have created opportunities to build and expand the community that will resonate long after the Joplin area is back on its feet.

One year later, the unprecedented progress of the recovery represents what Missourians do so well: help one another in times of need.

Looking back to the first days in the aftermath of the tornado, I will never forget what I saw firsthand in Joplin. Neighbors were each other's first responders, and they will be the last responders, too.

One year later, the spirit of Joplin is resilient.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., lives in Springfield. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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