Dispatches from Joplin, Part 2

Subject: Where’s Mike this week?
From: Mike Sisk
Date: May 30, 2011
To: engineering

I’m still in Joplin this week.

And my folks still don’t have power.

The problem now is that my parent’s house is old and has the original wiring from the 1940′s with glass fuses and all. Unfortunately, current building codes have a requirement that all buildings must have a minimum electrical rating of 100 amps, and my folk’s house has old 60 amp service. So the local power utility won’t reconnect the house to the grid until the electrical is updated.

After a lot of work, I found 2 electricians to take a look; one claims he can do the job but doesn’t inspire confidence while the other comes highly recommended but is having to consult with the city inspector to see exactly
what he needs to do; building codes after disasters often have some wiggle room so he’s looking into that.

The best case is putting in a new meter box and weatherhead that meets utility standards but graft it into the existing house wiring. Worse case is updating the entire house with new electrical service, and current standards now require wired-in smoke detectors, GFIs, energy-efficent bathroom lighting and arc-fault interrupters. A lot of work and expense.

Adding to the complexity is that State Farm insists they must be consulted before any work is started.

Most of the insurance companies here are doing a good job. Except State Farm — they’ve been slow and hard to deal with. On the 2nd day after I got here I saw an disaster agent setup nearby and stopped in to file a claim for my parents. He couldn’t get his Windows machine to connect to the Internet with his Verizon card so he couldn’t help me. Not sure what he planned to accomplish. He wasn’t there the next day.

This past holiday weekend was a busy with lots of volunteer groups in town helping out. Now, I’m not much for religion but I have to say the religion-based aid groups did an awesome job helping out in town. We had a mormon group cut down the remains of the tree in my folks front yard and afterwards they put a tarp over the broken windows of the next door neighbors house. And the next day they showed up again and picked up all the debris in the backyard.

Lots more groups came by and dropped off more food and water and today a new-age church one block north of my folks cooked burritos for anyone that wanted some. Throughout town there’s lots of hot free food being cooked and handed out for victims of the tornado and those in town helping out.

Aid is coming in from all over. Today I saw a truck from the Denver Humane Society and there’s police and fire departments helping out from all over. I’ve seen police from St. Louis and Kansas City all around town.

But it still looks bad around town. Even a week after the tornado the amount of debris is astounding.

Today the first funerals started. The most heart wrenching was a soldier who was at Home Depot with his wife and two young kids. He was found crushed in the rubble with his kids still in his arms, all dead. His wife survived, but the rest of her family didn’t. I can’t even imagine what she must be going through.

A missing 18-year-old high school student was found in a pond; he was coming back from a graduation party when they drove into the path of the tornado and he was pulled out of his Hummer through the sunroof.

I’m staying with my friend Kim — her house in the northern part of town has power and Internet so I’ll be able to get some work done around coordinating the electrical work on my folks place and helping them out with their needs. I’ve got most everything else taken care of around their house, but this power issue is a big one.

My folks are doing ok, but getting tired of limited power and no air conditioning. It’s been in the 90s with high humidity so it’s not very comfortable. Their generator is still holding out, but it’s using about 5-gallons of fuel a day which is adding up.