Lyle “Buzz” Cunningham said that is the only word he can use to describe the devastation he has seen in this Missouri town since arriving on May 26 as a Red Cross volunteer.
Cunningham, 66, a Metamora resident, is working in disaster public affairs connecting government officials with what they need from the Red Cross.
Cunningham spoke to the Woodford Times on May 31 by phone as he worked amid the rubble of broken buildings and lives left behind by an EF5 tornado that hit the town on May 22.
Cunningham said, at times, he feels like he is standing on the front line of a war zone.
“TV pictures only give you a taste of what it is like down here,” Cunningham said.
“The first night I went up on a little mound to get a look. Everything was leveled. It just looks like buildings went into a blender.”
Cunningham said his first impression was something that cannot be printed.
“I got teary-eyed. It’s incredible to see first-hand the power of nature. It pulls at you emotionally,” he said.
Cunningham said he has been told more than 8,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and at least 200 businesses.
“I talked to a lot of people who work at these disasters and they have all said this is the worst they have ever seen.”
Cunningham said, however, it has been uplifting to see all the volunteers that have rushed to the aid of Joplin residents.
Cunningham said his days start at 7 a.m. and usually run until 7 or 8 p.m. Cunningham said he does not mind the long days at all.
“There is an absolute unwavering desire to give back among all the volunteers,” Cunningham said.
He said the mood among the Joplin residents he has come in contact with is good.
“But, it’s only been a week,” he said. “In the next few days the shock may wear off and the reality that they have lost everything may set in.”
Cunningham said the reality of it all struck him when he saw the damage to the high school.
“My wife worked at a high school. I realized how quickly things could go from normal to disaster,” he said.
“As far as you can see in any direction there’s just destruction.”
One week after the destructive and deadly EF5 tornado that hit Joplin, area clergy hosted the Joplin Community Memorial Service on May 29.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and President Barack Obama were in attendance.
“Today we gather to celebrate the lives of those we’ve lost to the storms here in Joplin and across the Midwest, to keep in our prayers those still missing, to mourn with their families, to stand together during this time of pain and trial,” Obama said in his opening address.
“You look out at the landscape, and there have to be moments where you just say, ‘Where to begin?’” he said. “‘How to start?’ There are going to be moments where after the shock has worn off, you feel alone. But there’s no doubt in my mind what the people of this community can do. There’s no doubt in my mind that Joplin will rebuild. And as president, I can promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way.”
Applause rippled through the auditorium.
“We will be with you every step of the way,” Obama continued. “We’re not going anywhere. The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift. But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet. We’re not going anywhere. That is not just my promise; that’s America’s promise.”
Cunningham said the supplies people have been sending are overwhelming. He said supplies of clothes are being turned away because there are more than they can use.
“The one thing needed above all else is money,” Cunningham said. “Donate to a charity that does disaster relief.”
Cunningham said he has heard concerns among Joplin residents that after three weeks or so they will be forgotten.
Cunningham said he does not want to believe that.
“Don’t forget,” Cunningham said.
“There’s a lot of people here who will need help for a long time.”
Todd G. Higdon of GateHouse News Service contributed to this story.