Dealing with Disaster - FEMA Rebuilds Pierce City
Just as a Santa Fe Freight rolls slowly through Pierce City, Missouri, so does a new beginning. On May 4, 2003, an F3 tornado hit the city.
"The National Wire Service in Springfield recognized it as a dangerous situation. There were those folks who thought we cried wolf," Lawrence County Emergency Preparedness Director Dave Compton said.
Lawrence County is halfway between Joplin and Springfield. A single tornado touched down in one corner of the county and stayed on the ground for 35 miles; Pierce City took a direct hit.
"Everybody's life changed. You could tell the town would not be what it was," Pierce City residents said.
Even two and a half years after the tornado hit you can see damage from the storm. FEMA made it to Pierce City just two days after the disaster. Because where there's a disaster or an emergency who gets the last call: the federal government and FEMA. Every emergency starts local and ends local.
"The calvary is going to show up but you're going to have to hold the fort down for awhile and hold them off," FEMA boss Eric Jenkins said.
In Pierce City the fort and everything else had been toppled. The purpose of FEMA is to provide safe and sanitized housing to those affected by the disaster. They're there to provide your emergency assistance; until you can get your insurance payments, until you can get back on your feet.
In a support role like re-building a city armory, FEMA is still helping Pierce City today..rebuilding City Hall, rebuilding the Fire Station and even rebuilding ball fields. Pierce City has a lot of large capital improvements going on at the same time in a town of 1,400.
How long is it going to take? Do you want it fast, because fast isn't always efficient... In Pierce City, it's efficient. Without FEMA Pierce City Mayor Mark Peters said the city would be a disaster.
"Uninhabitable, at least the downtown," Peters said. He said FEMA stepped up to the plate.
Call it irony for a town devastated by a tornado. Pierce City is home to Missouri's only FEMA compliant tornado shelter. Inside is a safe room than can withstand winds of up to 250mph. The safe room is attached to Pierce City's new fire station, and the designer was an MU Extension Agent.
"What you have to do is you have to demonstrate that you're compliant with FEMA. If you're compliant with FEMA you can work with FEMA," MU Extension Designer Jeff Barber said.
FEMA calls it sustainable recovery. The department provided Pierce City with the dollars, technical assistance and staffing that stayed there permanently in the community. It was a full-time job. A small town mayor working full-time to rebuild.
The Methodist Church Cross used to stand tall in the community. Now it is bent, but not broken. The people in this community rallied together during without doubt what was the worst of times for this community; bent but not broken.
If it's taken two and a half years to rebuild a town of 1,400, how long is it going to take to rebuild New Orleans? In Pierce City, FEMA moved slowly, but very efficiently.