MDC staff assist with Joplin relief efforts

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JOPLIN Mo -- The search for people still unaccounted for in the May 22 Joplin tornado continues to widen in an effort to provide answers and closure for families that are still missing loved ones. On Friday, May 27, 16 Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff began assisting State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) personnel as they searched a wooded area just north of the tornado’s track.

“By performing our day-to-day duties in the management of the state’s fish, forest and wildlife resources, one of the skills we have become proficient in is chain saw use and how to handle complex cutting situations,” said MDC Resource Forester Josh Shroyer. “We were suited for this specific task so we were able to make the jump from our day-to-day mission to disaster recovery.”

Shroyer, who works at the Department’s Clinton office, was the crew boss for the MDC employees, who were split into three work teams to assist rescue workers in this search. Chainsawing their ways across areas clogged by downed trees and other debris, the workers followed the lead of dogs trained to sniff for human signs.

“Some of these areas were pretty thick with downed timber,” Shroyer said. “Our mission was to support the search and rescue personnel and the dog teams. We worked side-by-side with these crews, cutting and removing downed timber to facilitate their movement and enabling them to do the job they needed to do.”

No survivors or remains were found, but Shroyer said this does not mean their work was in vain.

“The lack of finding anything is still an accomplishment,” he said. “Because of the work done in this area, it’s been gridded and confirmed that there’s nothing there. As a result, search and rescue workers can cross that area off their list and move on to somewhere else. So, yes, we accomplished a lot.”

Sorting through the wreckage created by one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history left workers with sobering memories they will retain for a long time.

“The pictures you see don’t do it (the damage) justice,” said fellow MDC Resource Forester Rod Tucker, who performed similar duties during the 2003 tornado in Stockton. “You can look from one part of the town to another and there’s nothing to stop your view, except maybe a pile of rubble. It looked like a war zone.”