Close this search box.

Search & Rescue Efforts Continue In Joplin; Many In Jewish Community Lost Homes To Tornado

As rescue crews concluded their final sweeps through the devastated town of Joplin, Mo., the death toll following Sunday’s monster tornado appeared to level off at 117, making the storm the deadliest twister to strike the United States since 1953.

All members of the town’s small Jewish community – including two brothers who were missing on Monday – appeared to be safe and accounted for, although many lost their homes and possessions to the storm, said Zvi Tannenbaum, a history professor at Missouri Southern State University.

Tannenbaum moved to S. Louis four years ago but still commutes to Joplin, where he teaches European Jewish history, several times a week. When news of the destruction spread, he turned to a list of friends and acquaintances and began making phone calls, all while his friend, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yehuda Weg of Tulsa, Okla., was heading into the disaster zone bearing food and clothing for those in need.

“My primary concern is obviously for the safety and well-being of the members of the Jewish community, and of my professional colleagues,” said Tannenbaum. “I also have a home there that was undamaged. My stepdaughter was home at the time, about four blocks from where the serious damage began to occur.”

On Tuesday, he said an e-mail from someone on the ground in Joplin indicated that while property damage was extensive, the Jewish community – which numbers between 15 and 20 people – suffered no loss of life.

“There must have been a fair number, at least half a dozen, who suffered significant losses,” he explained. “There’s total devastation, literally fields of flattened rubble. I saw a report on the evening news last night of someone standing on one side of the city and seeing the destroyed hospital on the other. Joplin is a city with a lot of trees, and to be able to see three, four, five miles across is something.”

Speaking from nearby Carthage, Mo., where he arrived around midnight, Weg said that he made contact with Omri Mani, an Israeli man who was at work when the severe thunderstorm came barreling through town. He knew of another Jewish man currently at a Red Cross shelter.

“If he’s willing, I’ll take him back down to Tulsa,” said the rabbi, who directs Chabad of Oklahoma.

With police lines preventing most movement in and out of Joplin, Weg said that he’s working with relief agencies to coordinate his activities.

“A bunch of Jewish homes were totally flattened,” said the rabbi. “There was no damage to the official building of the Jewish community, but individual homes were totaled.”

The National Weather Service announced that the Joplin tornado, part of a system of storms that spawned at least 11 tornadoes all across the Upper Midwest, was classified as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale of intensity, which ranks tornadoes based upon the destruction they cause. Forecasters predicted another round of afternoon severe thunderstorms, some of which could cause tornadoes.

At the Red Cross, which opened a shelter for 1,000 people shortly after the tornado struck, officials urged people to donate money to the relief effort.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who lost loved ones or have suffered through these deadly storms,” said Red Cross Disaster Services vice president Charley Shimanski. “The Red Cross already has people on the ground to help in these communities, and we have more on the way today.”


Leave a Reply

Popular Posts