Building back better in Joplin, Mo.
When I visited Joplin, Missouri, last September, four months after a Category 5 tornado leveled about a quarter of the town, the debris lined up along streets in one area reminded me of earthquake rubble I’d seen piled up on the right-of-way beside Route National 1 north of Port-of-Prince in June, 2010. After six months of seeing news footage and photographs of post-quake Haiti, the devastation I saw from the Jan. 2010 disaster was about what I’d expected. For some reason the destruction in Joplin, where little remained in one section of the disaster zone besides concrete slabs and wood framing split into giant toothpicks, was more surprising. It was one of the worst tornados to hit the Midwest in recent memory and the deadliest since the NOAA began modern recordkeeping in 1950.
But Joplin is on the way to recovery, largely thanks to the way locals have circumvented some of the inevitable post-disaster bureaucracy, which I explain in a Reason feature posted online today:
As the one-year anniversary of the storm approached, Joplin found itself in startlingly good shape. Local officials estimate that insurance claims will total $2 billion, yet the town’s business tax revenues are actually up for the year. School enrollment is 95 percent of what it was before the tornado, and the vast majority of displaced residents have secured lodging in or near the area.
Joplin’s recovery contrasts with the fitful, fraught response to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, 700 miles to the south, in 2005. The two storms, like the two cities, were different in nature and scale. But there were also disparities in the official and unofficial responses after the initial damage. While the people of Joplin largely took matters into their own hands, pushing aside burdensome rules and refusing help when it came with too many strings attached, New Orleans and the surrounding area to this day remains hamstrung by federal, state, and local bureaucracy. Joplin’s experience offers a powerful lesson in self-sufficiency and knowing when to say “no thanks” to government.
Read the entire thing here.
Photo via flickr user Kansas City District