Rebuilding Joplin: One Block at a Time


By Daron Brown, Buildex, Inc.

On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado ripped through the city of Joplin, MO. With a maximum width of approximately one mile, the tornado traveled through both residential and commercial portions of the city, leaving a path of destruction more than six miles in length. It is estimated that more than 2,000 buildings and 7,000 houses were destroyed. It was also the deadliest U.S. tornado in the last 60 years.

Many stories have been told about the damage. The local hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, was lifted off and rotated from its foundation. That building was demolished and a new hospital is scheduled to open in 2015. Of the 19 local schools, nearly half were damaged or destroyed, including the high school. Three of those schools have recently opened. The high school is on schedule to be completed in August 2014, just in time for the first day of school. Even the local Wal-Mart suffered significant enough damage, that it was razed and rebuilt in the same location.

Cupcakes by LizLost in these stories are those of the small businesses in Joplin. For many, the question was not if they should rebuild, but how. They had to be smart with the money that they had. At the same time, they needed to construct a building that would be safer than what they previously had. After driving through the devastated town, it was evident that of the few structures still standing, most of them were concrete block construction. This was the answer that they needed.

With local block producer, Joplin Building Materials, leading the way, lightweight concrete block became a major component in the resiliency of Joplin businesses. Lightweight block made the designers happy with its structural dependability. Its light weight and ease of handling made the local mason crews happy. These projects range from larger shopping centers like the South Towne Plaza Strip Mall to smaller single units like Cupcakes by Liz (pictured above). Even municipal projects like Fire Station’s No. 2 and 4 were constructed with lightweight block.

The use of lightweight block did not stop with the businesses. Of the 161 casualties sustained on that day, more than half of those occurred in the destruction of the homes. Due to soil conditions, it is estimated that only a third of Joplin homes had a basement. After city officials rejected a proposal to require concrete basements in all new homes, many homeowners turned to the use of safe rooms. Using guidelines described in FEMA P-320 (pictured below), residents in Joplin used lightweight concrete block to convert closets and bathrooms into safe rooms.

More than two years later, lightweight concrete block has been a big part in the estimated 85% of Joplin that has been rebuilt. Day by day, block by block.

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