Oct 12, 2011

Where do we begin?

Professor of Art Tom Watson & Kim Nowak Watson '91
Moved by the images of utter destruction they had seen, Kim Watson ’91, her husband Professor of Art Tom Watson and their daughters drove down to Joplin to help. They were not prepared for what they encountered. 

Read Kim's story:

We went down on May 31. We took our two girls, Lee Watson ’07 [Bachelor’s of Fine Arts] and Nikie, age 18, who will be a freshman this fall at Columbia College. We felt as though our help was pointless. The job was so overwhelming and each of our two hands did so little. However, the volunteer leaders told us we were a tremendous help. Tom and I hope to go back after I return from California (where I am now with Nikie). Nikie is taking part in an acting camp and hoping to book an agent for a career in TV and film.

Once we arrived in Joplin, we were bused out to the field and were dropped off at the first residential street just east of the infamous hospital. Quite a thing after seeing it all over the news, to then be right there. The sight made you cry, the smell was horrendous. We stepped off the bus into what used to be a neighborhood.
They told us, okay, start anywhere and we all said, “Where do we begin?” They wanted us to sort rubble into piles for recycling. Eventually they were going to come in with bulldozers but wanted to minimize what went into the landfill. We started pulling bits of lumber out to the curb. We found hazardous waste and made a pile of that. We sorted any electronics and piled those up. It was as if all of your belongings and home were chopped up in a blender and thrown all over town. Bits and pieces of things all mixed up. After doing the sorting for a while I began to focus my attention on what I felt I'd like volunteers to do for me if I were the victim (which my family was on July 2 1992 when our house was damaged). Anyway, I began looking for valuables and personal items. I found family photos, graduation announcements and so on.

They don't want you to overwork yourself, and they provide you with plenty of water, even though we brought our own. They offered us masks and gloves, which we also brought along. So our shift wasn't but a few hours.

Photo by Kim Nowak Watson '91. Click on image for larger view.

Being a photographer I would have loved to just take photos or made a documentary film, but knowing how exhausted and devastated those families are ... helping clean up was the best thing. I wish every family in Missouri would go down and at least give one afternoon. That would truly help. It's going to take a very long time and lots of help to get that mess cleaned up.

One of the owners was present while we were working. He said he was standing in the middle of the street and watched his truck get tossed about and saw his house just leave.

Some are asking, how did so many people die with 20 minutes of warning? Tom and I agree when we say, how did so many people survive, when there was nowhere to go?

Joplin’s schools have critical needs; go to http://brightfuturesjoplin.org/adopt-a-classroom to find how you can help. Numerous other organizations have pitched in to help the Joplin victims; find one you are comfortable with and donate what you can — your money, your time, the use of your vehicle, your muscles.