Thousands of Joplin Residents Refuse to Leave Town

Worried about looting, "refusers" are living in tents rather than go to relief shelters

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Extraordinary stories of survivors continue to pour out of tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri. The F-5 twister destroyed one third of the city, leaving countless numbers of the city's 49,000 residents. As relief trickles in from around the country--everyone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Humane Society is helping--people in Joplin continue to search for survivors and begin to cope with the total devastation. The Kansas City Star reports that "hundreds if not thousands" of residents vow not to leave what's left of their homes for the relief shelters being set up in the area. Living under tarps and cooking on outdoor grills, some of these "refusers" worried about looting; the sum of their possessions litters the ground, where debris is several feet deep. "If we leave, we’ll have nothing to come back to,” one woman told the paper.

Much of Joplin still lacks electricity and running water, so the living conditions for the refusers are far from comfortable. Using rain water to flush toilets and plywood to cover blown out windows, those that remain say they want to help with the clean up effort and insist that they can make make due with the tough conditions. "We don’t need power," said Kevan Cole, a father of three whose house is still mostly standing. "Plus, we don’t want to take up shelter space from someone who needs it more than us.” Yesterday, hundreds of residents who had fled after the tornado lined up to get back into the city to recover what they could.

The top priority, however, is accounting for those missing. Latest estimates put the number at 1,500, though officials say they aren't sure, but the number should drop as the city's infrastructure comes back online. "As communications slowly improves in this area, a lot of the people unaccounted for that number will probably drop drastically," storm chasing veteran Jeff Piotrowski told The Atlantic Wire. In the meantime, volunteers as far away as Minneapolis are using Facebook to begin collecting information about the missing.

Nevertheless, the local Joplin Globe reflects the town's resilient spirit in its coverage. "This community is going to be OK,” one of the city's now-homeless residents told the paper. “This community is pulling together like never before. This little bitty F-5 isn’t going to stop us.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.