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One year later, citizens from afar continue to help in Joplin tornado aftermath

Nearly all of the debris has been cleaned up. But large sections of a devastated Joplin, Missouri remain a year after the city was struck by an EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people.

Tuesday’s one year anniversary of the storm was highlighted by thousands who walked the path of destruction.

Over the last year, people from across the globe have traveled to the Southwest Missouri town to offer their help in the rebuilding process.

Among the missionaries is New Life Baptist Church Youth Minister Lonnie Sanders and his group of students from Cooper, Texas in Delta County. He visited the tornado-stricken Joplin four times last year, most recently over the Thanksgiving holiday. Sanders says he’s going back in two weeks.

“It’s kind of fluid; whatever they need is what we do. That’s how we walk into it. We don’t go in saying ‘this is what we want to do’ we go in saying ‘what do you need?’” Sanders said. “Last time we talked to them we we’re going to do some big projects. Help clean up some big areas that they needed. We’re taking about 50 people.”

Sanders says it’s pretty amazing the progress made there, noting that six months after the tornado hit the area looked just like empty land rather than a disaster site. 

He says to see so many people come together for a common cause has played a major role in his group’s outlook on disaster response.

“There were hundreds of thousands of volunteers that came through during the tornado and the disaster; people just volunteering and doing whatever. It was pretty amazing to see what a lot of people working together could accomplish.”

According to Sanders, the youth group may go back again after this next visit in June, but also may explore visiting other disaster areas.

In a Tuesday interview with Marketplace Morning Report, Joplin Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce says business in the city is pretty good, all things considered.

“Less than 40 businesses have indicated that they will not rebuild. In light of that, we have 20 brand new businesses that have been constructed in the tornado zone, which gives us a net loss of about 19 businesses, which we think is phenomenal.”

But Scearce adds that help is still needed for Joplin.

With the help of people like Lonnie Sanders and the dozens of youth group students from Delta County as well as other area churches, the City of Joplin will continue to receive strong support in the months and years ahead.

Sanders' group leaves June 3.

KETR's Cindy Roller contributed to this report.