By Brian Giles
When a category EF5 tornado touched down in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, May 22, 2011, the city of 50,150 was forever changed. In a path approximately one mile wide and six miles long, the tornado ripped through the center of southern Joplin before continuing eastward across the city.
In its wake were 162 victims and nearly $3 billion in damage to homes, businesses, schools, and infrastructure. Public works immediately began clearing roads for emergency vehicles, restoring the right of way and using their heavy equipment to help with search and rescue efforts.
With the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private contractors, the city cleared 3 million cubic yards of waste within 11 weeks, enough to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's deadline for funding almost all — 90% — debris removal costs. The city received additional support from U.S. EPA, which removed and recycled furniture, appliances, hazardous waste, and electronics, through the federal National Response Framework.
City employees and residents then continued a recovery process that could take decades.
Public works has received help with this ongoing effort from a local company that's sold and serviced the department's street sweepers and sewer cleaners for more than three decades. The tornado hit close to home for Key Equipment & Supply Co., an Elgin Sweeper dealership based in Kansas City, Kan., and St. Louis — and, in particular, for one employee who lives in Kansas City but who grew up in Joplin and whose family home was destroyed.
Public works didn't have an emergency services contract with the dealership. Key Equipment & Supply Manager Jeff Miles knew the city's four air sweepers wouldn't be able to handle all the debris, but he also knew the department wouldn't be able to buy or rent one. So he took matters into his own hands.