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PHOTOS: Local Jews Among Joplin’s Missing Following Massive Tornado

With half of the small city of Joplin, Mo., destroyed by the second-deadliest tornado in United States history, relief workers and rescue personnel are pouring into the Midwestern town to help its scarred and tattered population.

Along with the American Red Cross and local disaster agencies, Rabbi Yehuda Weg, the Tulsa-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Oklahoma, was headed into the worst of the destruction with a list of Jewish community members in need or missing. He stocked a car with food and clothing and was expected to arrive in Joplin late Monday night.

“This is absolutely horrific,” said the rabbi, who goes to Joplin twice a month to supervise kosher production lines at several food manufacturers and to meet with local Jews. “This tornado was six miles long and almost a mile wide, and went right through the center of town.”

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Weg said that those missing following the tornado included two brothers active in the Jewish community. One of them lives across the street from Joplin High School, which was reduced to “a pile of bricks.”

Omer Mani, an Israeli expatriate who operates a kiosk at the Northpark Mall, said that he was at work when the severe storm system came barreling through town late Sunday afternoon. The mall withstood the winds, but when he returned home to his unit at the Plaza Apartments, he found a scene of immense devastation.

“Everything is destroyed,” said a shaken Mani. “I lost everything.”

Amazingly, Mani discovered that his Jewish prayer boxes known as tefillin, a Hebrew prayer book, and a bound copy of the five books of the Torah survived. He grabbed them from the pile of rubble and went to a friend’s house.

“Down the main street of Joplin, most everything is gone,” said the man. “There’s one quarter of the city that has electricity, and a quarter that has nothing, but is standing. Everything else is gone.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Joplin tornado was part of a massive system of severe thunderstorms that spawned several twisters across the Midwest. As of Monday afternoon, the death toll stood at 116, with dozens more missing. More severe weather could be in store for the area tonight, forecasters said.

Mayor Mike Woolston declared Joplin a disaster area and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dispatched National Guard troops to the area.

“As a state, we are deploying every agency and resource available to keep Missouri families safe, search for the missing, provide emergency medical care, and begin to recover,” said Nixon.

While Weg was immediately concerned with a Jewish community that numbers between 15 and 20 people, he emphasized that he was going to Joplin to help whoever needed assistance.

“The scope of this tragedy is immense,” said the rabbi. “It’s clear that things are worse than even the news reports are describing.”


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