Sunday, May 11, 2008
Newtonia: the day after
Talk about irony.
John Scott, the drummer for our band, Natural Disaster, had his home blown away by one Saturday. Fortunately, John was not at home at the time.
Newtonia looked like a battle zone today with National Guardsmen standing at strategic positions, not only helping guide traffic through the town and helping with the cleanup, but also to prevent looting.
John Scott's house was not the only one that was lost to the storm. As I visited my parents, I noted one of their neighbors had half of her house missing, and my parents' former rental house, which they sold only a few months ago, was also destroyed.
Houses that I remember walking by on a daily basis as I grew up are now missing huge sections or are missing entirely.
As I noted in a post Saturday, one building which no longer exists is Newtonia's City Hall, which was once a residence. The only thing intact at the building, for some strange reason, was a green folding chair sitting triumphantly above the wreckage.
A sign still visible in front of the building read, "Bloom where God plants you."
The Ritchey Mansion, a surviving structure from Civil War days, had sections of its roof blown away, while the Newtonia Community Center suffered slight damage (at least compared to other buildings), with a window knocked out and a deck that was added to the building in recent years crumpled.
One building that suffered little damage was a brick building that I visited every day as I grew up- the building that once housed Gum Mercantile. I can remember many an afternoon after school drinking a Dr. Pepper (it only costs 10 to 13 cents at the time), talking with the Letts boys, and waiting for the Neosho Daily News to arrive. Even the windows of the section of the building that was most recently used as a branch facility for Community Bank and Trust were intact.
The oddest sight, among many, was an eight-year-old's blue trampoline that was lifted off the ground and ended up wrapped around the top of an electric pole.
An odd combination of sightseers and media made its way through Newtonia today, including a Kansas City Star reporter/photographer team that stopped by to talk to Dad and Mom while we were picking up limbs, shingles, and other debris. The photographer was surprised to see my niece, Kylie Finkbiner, barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs, but as my sister, Kelly, explained to him, that was what we were going to do for Mother's Day before the storm hit and no tornado was going to stop us from doing it.
As always, people were willing to do whatever they could to help in a crisis situation. A group of Mennonites quickly and efficiently helped those who lost their roofs cover their homes until something more permanent can be done. The group helped put a tarp over Mom and Dad's bathroom.
All through the afternoon, a steady stream of people, most on foot, walked past the houses. After we had done all we could for the afternoon, we joined those people talking a quick walk through town to survey the damage.
Mayor Dee Wormington was at the Relief Center at Newtonia Baptist Church, and told us she was headed toward a meeting with emergency management officials in Neosho to discuss the steps to be taken to help Newtonia, the first of which is for Mrs. Wormington to declare Newtonia a disaster area. After that, it works its way up the political chain until hopefully President Bush declares the city a federal disaster area and money can be obtained to help rebuild a town.
Though the immediate future is uncertain, Newtonians appeared to be in no mood to pack their things and give up on their community. That was evident from the way people immediately pitched in to help. The path ahead will be a long and difficult one, but this tornado will not spell the end for Newtonia.
(Kansas City Star photos by Mike Ransdell- Newtonia Mayor Dee Wormington surveys what little is left of City Hall. Kiley Finkbiner mans the barbecue grill while dozens of people are working on my parents' tornado-damaged home.)