April 4, 2006 – Posted at 6:27 p.m. CST
CARUTHERSVILLE, MO -- Everything from mobile homes to century-old brick homes were destroyed in Caruthersville when an F3 tornado ripped through Southeast Missouri Sunday afternoon. National Guard soldiers are headed to the Bootheel for the recovery effort, but residents are working hard to pick up the pieces and hold themselves together as a community.
More than 60% of all the buildings in Caruthersville were damaged or destroyed, tearing apart this close-knit community of 6,700 people.
"It's just devastated...I was scared for them. I was just scared for the kids," said survivor Pam Grubbs through tears.
Grubbs rode out the tornado in her sister-in-law's house...just across the street from her own. She and her husband Gary now have the only livable house on West 16th Street in Caruthersville. They both wear blue wristbands to show they are living in the devastated area. A mandatory curfew keeps them home after 8 p.m.
"I'm just glad that we are blessed and God was looking over us," said Gary Grubbs. Caruthersville is now an eerily familiar place. Spray paint marks homes and signs warn potential looters.
"This looks just like what Katrina did and what Charlie did. There's just no difference, there is just as much devastation," said Jean Hunt of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Team.
Pam Grubbs works along side her friend Jean Hunt with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Team...they travel across the country helping to clean up. Now they are the ones in need the help.
"That's the hardest part is waiting for the help...people are wondering, where's the help at? But the help is here. There's just so much devastation," said Hunt.
And as the town begins again...residents are thankful it wasn't worse.
"Everything's ok. We will survive, we'll just pick up and start over," said Grubbs. "God's grace was on this town, he spared their lives," said Hunt.
Residents in Caruthersville are still without water, gas and electric, but the mail is still running, giving this town some sense of normalcy after this disaster.
The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Team has a feeding unit set up in Hayti at the First Baptist Church. Also, the One Step Ministries is organizing a water drop for Caruthersville tornado victims. Burton 's Quick Shop on Highway 412 in Cardwell is serving as a drop-off point.
The Caruthersville School also took a beating in Sunday's storms. Damage to the high school and middle school has cancelled classes for the rest of the week.
Fortunately, students will be on spring break next week, giving officials more time to clean up and asses the damage. However, students were in the middle of taking their "MAP" tests.
Assistant Superintendent Sherry Copeland says they are working with the state to figure out what they are going to do next.
"We're looking at possibly doing a split schedule and bringing each of the middle school and high school in at one time and bringing in the elementary in at another time. Our elementary school sits across town and is just fine," said Copeland.