JOPLIN — Residents of Joplin who survived the devastation of a 2011 tornado are reaching out to the northeast Nebraska town of Pilger, which was torn apart by a tornado last week.
A group of Joplin residents on Thursday announced a "Joplin Loves Pilger" campaign to help victims of the June 16 tornado. The campaign includes a Facebook page to offer encouragement and an account at Pinnacle Bank in Joplin, with all proceeds going to the Pilger Community Development Fund, The Joplin Globe reported.
An E-5 tornado May 22, 2011, killed 161 people and damaged thousands of homes and businesses in Joplin. The E-4 tornado in Pilger killed two people and damaged or destroyed more than half of the town of about 380 residents.
Joplin resident Doug Hunt said he was working in Pilger on Saturday and offered some encouraging words to a woman who was sifting through wreckage.
"Then I told her I was from Joplin," he said. "She just emotionally broke down and started bawling. She leaned in and hugged me, and she whispered, 'You know.'"
Hunt said although the Pilger tornado was smaller than the Joplin one, the impact is the same.
"What I've experienced is what we've all experienced," he said. "The sights, the smells, the radiating heartache, the tears. It was like time-traveling for me."
Hunt said the campaign grows out of a need to thank people who helped Joplin after its devastation.
"This is a calling," Hunt said. "I don't know about you, but I have ached for a long time about finding somebody or something that I could say 'thank you' to. So, this isn't just about helping the people of Pilger, Neb. It's also about sending a message globally to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who came to Joplin that we're doing something, and that in and of itself will send a message to them of gratitude."
Kris Paapanen, a Joplin school teacher, set up the Facebook page because she remembers how one online message offering her hope helped her cope with the 2011 tornado.
"That one voice coming through social media totally just calmed me down," she said, "and I think we have a chance to be that one voice."