A Kirkwood funeral director is back home after spending last week working in a temporary morgue set up after the deadly tornado that struck Joplin, MO.
For Chris Roth, seeing firsthand the devastation in that southwest Missouri city was mind-boggling.
“As far as the damage, there is no real way for me to put it into words,” Roth said. “The only thing I can say is the photos don't really do it justice, because they don't show the panorama of destruction. And I only saw a fraction of the town. “
Roth, 38, is a funeral director at Bopp Chapel in Kirkwood and a member of the Missouri Funeral Directors Association’s Disaster Response Team. He was one of many trained volunteers who were called in to help emergency officials overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster in Joplin.
Roth’s job was to work with the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT.) Team members are citizens from various fields of expertise, including medical examiners, coroners and pathologists. They are called in to assist local authorities in recovering, identifying and processing victims in disasters.
Roth, current president of the state funeral directors' association, said it was the first time he had been called to respond to a disaster. Just the week before, he had participated in a statewide drill to prepare for a major earthquake.
Roth drove to Joplin on May 23, the day after the tornado that killed at least 134. He remained in Joplin until Friday.
He kept himself from dwelling on the destruction and loss of life by reminding himself that he was there to help.
“While it is something that I will never forget, it is also something that I will be able to not talk about, if that makes sense,” he said. “In the end, I was able to come home, and the people of Joplin have a long road ahead of them.”
According to news reports, as many as 8,000 homes were destroyed and untold thousands were left homeless. (The Missouri Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that all persons who had previously been reported as unaccounted-for have either been located or confirmed deceased and their next-of-kin notified.)
Within hours of the massive tornado, volunteers had begun arriving--from search and rescue workers to church groups and relief agencies such as the American Red Cross. In all, more than 3,000 people registered as volunteers, according to city officials.
That is what struck Roth as he drove out of town last Friday night--interstate hotel parking lots were crowded with the cars, trucks and trailers of the volunteers who had responded.
Help had arrived.
“They are going to need it for a long time,” he said. “I can’t imagine.”