WKU students, instructor arrive in Joplin for fall break project

A group of 13 WKU students and history instructor David Serafini left Bowling Green around 8 a.m. Thursday morning to head to Joplin, Mo. They will be spending their entire fall break helping Relief Spark with tornado recovery and rebuilding.

Tessa Duvall

NEOSHO, Mo. — After more than nine hours in a car, it was on a grocery run to Target that a group of WKU students got a first glimpse at what fall break will be like.

Thirteen students and a faculty member made the trip to Joplin, Mo., Thursday to spend fall break helping to rebuild the tornado-ravaged town.

“It looked a lot more cleaned up when we drove through today,” said Chris Storath, a Henersonville, Tenn., sophomore.

Thursday didn’t mark Storath’s first glimpse at the destruction in Joplin.

At the end of June, Storath, David Serafini, a history instructor at WKU and advisor for Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, and seven students organized a trip to Joplin to assist in recovery efforts following the May 22 tornado.

The tornado, categorized as an EF-5, ripped through Joplin — a town about the size of Bowling Green — leaving 162 people dead and causing more than $2 billion in damage.

“When we went the first time, there’s nothing that can actually prepare you for what we saw,” Storath said. “Once you get there, it’s just like, ‘Wow.’”

Although the sun was setting when the group drove through the “dead zone,” Serafini said he noticed improvement from last time.

“We’ll know more tomorrow,” he said. “I definitely noticed businesses were coming back.

“On the one hand I want to see things better, and having improved, but at the same time, I’m still sort of prepared for the fact that there was just so much destruction.”

Beginning Friday morning, the group will report to base camp in Joplin where it will receive an assignment that has yet to be determined.

Relief Spark, the organization the group is working and staying with, has several projects in the Joplin area, including efforts to rebuild schools.