Joplin tornado: With one-third of homes gone, where will residents live?

Since the Joplin tornado, nearly 5,000 people have signed up for housing help. FEMA is involved, and Home Depot has set up a makeshift lumberyard that's seeing brisk business.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Brent Long looks over a devastated Joplin, Mo. neighborhood as he helps a friend salvage belongings on Monday, May 30. An tornado tore through much of the city May 22, damaging a hospital and hundreds of homes and businesses and killing at least 139 people.

Even as teams continue to look for missing Joplin residents in the aftermath of the massive May 22 tornado, plans for the demolished city's future are moving forward – especially in terms of accommodating those left homeless by the twister.

Search-and-rescue teams began working on a fifth sweep of the city's massive debris field on Monday. For now, the death toll appears to stand at 139, although some reports contained conflicting numbers. At the same time, officials located more survivors over the weekend, narrowing the number of people missing to 29, down from 232 last week.

Teams will conduct a sixth – and final – sweep of stricken neighborhoods in the coming days, said City Manager Mark Rohr. "With each passing day, we face diminishing prospects, but we are still hoping for a miracle in the city of Joplin,” he said.

The EF-5 tornado, with wind speeds in excess of 210 miles per hour, cut a mile-wide, 13-mile-long swath through populated neighborhoods, mowing down 8,000 homes and apartment complexes. This means that the housing stock in the city of 50,000 has been cut by as much as a third, and nearly 5,000 people have signed up so far for housing help, city officials say.

"I can't imagine trying to find a place. There are so many individuals and families without a home," Michele Nichols, who is providing a temporary home for her uncle, Robert Cole, told Reuters. Mr. Cole's apartment was destroyed by the tornado.

To address the housing needs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is scoping rental listings as far as 55 miles away, and it's considering bringing in so-called FEMA trailers to house for now the thousands of homeless.

In the past, FEMA's temporary housing hasn't been so temporary. Six years after hurricane Katrina, some people are still using them as primary residences.

Moreover, US officials hope to avoid placing people in storm-susceptible trailers in the middle of one of the most active tornado seasons in American history.

Meanwhile, a Home Depot store that was completely destroyed vows to have a temporary building ready in a couple of weeks. Already, the company has set up a makeshift lumberyard that's seeing brisk business, just nine days after the storm.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) scheduled a press conference for Tuesday afternoon to address growing questions about the debris removal and rebuilding process.

The May 22 tornado ranks as the eighth deadliest of all time in the United States. Total damages could reach $3 billion. Last week, Congress debated a special $1 billion recovery fund for the city, but Republican leadership insisted that any relief package must be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

“There's no doubt in my mind that Joplin will rebuild,” President Obama said during a visit to Joplin on Sunday. “As president, I can promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way.... That is not just my promise; that's America's promise.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.