I traveled down to Joplin last week. Having only seen footage of the extensive damage I knew I had to be prepared to see it in real life. I had a similar experience when I went to work on the Gulf Coast two years after Katrina. The media was no longer around covering the people and their recovery efforts, but the damage was still everywhere.
The scene was similar in Joplin, the media wasn’t around 24/7 anymore, and it was easy to put it out of mind. But all it took as driving of the hill in downtown Joplin to see just what was still there. The Walgreens had recently opened and looked good as new. But down the road were the remnant of a Taco Bell. Its sign stripped bare and the inside abandoned.
This was the similar scene over on Jackson Street where the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was filming for the week. My goal was to follow a group of MU students who traveled down to Joplin to volunteer in the home building effort. However, the most interesting part was that ABC was building these seven homes in the middle of all the tornado destruction. Just blocks away from the skeleton that remained of St. John’s Memorial Hospital. The dichotomy was hard to miss.
The most difficult thing about reporting this story was getting access on a TV set. At first it looked like I’d have none and was ready to give up. But after a little coaxing from my editor, she convinced me there was a way to work things out with the network. While I still had limited access, I was able to negotiate with the TV set and ended having more access than most other media that day. And of course, since this was the most difficult thing, it was also what I most took away from this experience.