Senate panel discusses Joplin disaster response

July 19, 2011|by Paula Morehouse, Ky3 News

Joplin --  It's been two months since a devastating tornado barreled through Joplin and neighboring town Duquesne.
While progress is moving along, there is still much to be done and that includes in the business sector.
"More than 450 in the direct path were destroyed or damaged beyond repair--that is approximately 20% of all the businesses in our two communities," explained Rob O'Brian, the president of Joplin Chamber of Commerce, as he spoke before a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Monday.
O'Brian said those companies combined employed some 5,000 people.
As of today, he said more 200 of the 450 businesses are back in operation, but some are open at temporary locations.

"Companies have gone to extraordinary lengths to retain their employees. We estimate nearly 3,500 of the 5,000 impacted are still on payroll," said O'Brian.
"Is there really any way a business can plan for this kind of thing? Have you got some stories of businesses that have faced challenges different than you would would expect?" asked Senator Roy Blunt.
One lesson learned, O'Brian said, is that most businesses weren't prepared for the loss of information.

"We are so computer driven in this age that unless the records are adequately backed-up, preferably off-site that we had businesses that lost their records. Then in looking to the SBA for a loan, they had to retrieve some of those records and then they found out their accountant was gone," O'Brian said.
Along with business and employment, what's being done about housing remains paramount.

"Can you update the committee on the efforts for the 1,500 that are still on the waiting list for housing and what are the hang-ups? Two months is a long time.  What do we need to do to make sure we clear that waiting list?" asked Senator Claire McCaskill.
"One of the first things we do is look for rental assistance-- what's available for people to rent throughout the area. Unfortunately, as you just said, Joplin is a hub and there isn't a lot of rental assistance or even homes to buy in the area, even prior to this happening, so I think this is one of the challenges," answered Richard Serino, the Deputy Administrator of FEMA.

Meantime, Joplin officials continue to work to find places to educate students after Joplin High School was destroyed

The city council on Monday approved a proposal to lease Memorial Hall to the school district for three years, with an option for a fourth year.

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