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Disaster

This year has shown us that disasters can strike anywhere, and can often come unexpectedly. This year alone, we've seen historic flooding along many rivers, deadly tornadoes in several states, a hurricane hit the East Coast (including New England), and recently, even an earthquake in Virginia.

For many, knowing the relationship between natural disasters and volunteers is limited to response and recovery. It conjures up images of volunteers pulling survivors from rubble, sorting through debris, delivering supplies, consoling victims, and rebuilding communities. But service and volunteerism has a place in disasters long before one actually hits; much can be done in terms of preparation and readiness.

Pulling up to the home of Joplin resident Linda Smith, Kari Shields, an AmeriCorps NCCC member with the Southern region, was overcome with emotion. Shield’s team had already visited homes affected by the tornado that day, but they had only needed minor support such as tarps installed on roofs.

Volunteers motivate and inspire us. In the weeks following the tornado that destroyed much of Joplin, MO, we've received an outpouring of volunteers from various states and countries.

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado struck my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly every resident was affected. The tornado destroyed approximately 18,000 vehicles, 7,000 homes, 5,000 businesses, and took the lives of 162 people, including two of my high school classmates.

As a native of Long Island, the attacks of September 11th, 2001 hit close to home for Tracy Connelly. Loved ones working in the World Trade Center were missing. Family members responding to the attacks were injured. For 36 hours, she had no idea where her father was. Days after the events, Connelly learned of friends' deaths by passing their memorials in Penn Station.

In the wake of the nation’s deadliest tornado in six decades, more than 80 AmeriCorps members are working night and day to assist first responders and victims in the recovery efforts in Joplin, MO.

With the death toll at 126, more than 700 people injured, and thousands of structures destroyed, the EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin last Sunday flattened everything in its path, leaving residents to scramble to find missing family members and find immediate shelter.

At 2:00 AM, on May 23rd, just eight hours after a deadly EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, MO, the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team arrived in a community devastated by the latest in a string of natural disasters.

New Orleans knows a lot about service. The city has a rich history steeped in volunteerism and national service. They also know, perhaps more than any other U.S. City, that service plays a critical role in transforming a place that suffered unimaginable destruction.

After Hurricane Katrina, the city once known for its lively and colorful neighborhoods, personalities, and culture was left shaken – swimming in floodwater and debris. At that point, it was hard to imagine that the city would ever return to its once vibrant self. Yet, just six years later, New Orleans has been reborn.

At a press conference last Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon had this to say about the AmeriCorps members serving in the Joplin area: “I pushed more volunteers your way than maybe I should have. But I had the understanding that I could trust your operation. It appears I was right.”

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