Ripple Effects of the Joplin Tornado on Surrounding Communities

Yarco Company's Robert Schock shares with MHN some of the indirect human costs that are taking shape as people start to pick up the pieces shredded by the recent storms.

By Robert O. Schock, SVP and director of property management, The Yarco Company, Inc.

Houses in Joplin, Mo. leveled by the tornado. (Photo: KOMU News)

We are already anticipating some general operational issues as a result of the disaster in Joplin. We do not have any apartments in Joplin itself, but are in a number of small towns around there. One is in Webb City, which is just north of Joplin by about five to 10 miles. It is a six-story seniors building. We also have a property in Carthage, which is about 12 to 15 miles away.

First, we were fortunate that the property in Webb City was untouched. Especially because it is a seniors community, we had some real concern for their safety, getting them to respond and getting to a safe place in the building if necessary. Those who had family in the area, we have been able to help them by checking on Facebook and the other places where information was posted to assure them that their family members were accounted for. In Carthage, we had some wind damage, but that is about all.

However, we saw the indirect human cost immediately. At the Carthage property, many of our residents work in Joplin. And right now, many of them don’t know if they still have a job or not. Our community manager said that most of the residents were just walking around the property on Monday, not really knowing what to do. The tornado’s path went through a business district and, as I am sure you saw on the news, severely damaged a number of major employers in the area (Lowes, Wal-Mart, Home Depot) This job loss will be felt all over the area as not only our residents, but those in other communities, will find it increasingly difficult to have the resources to pay their rent.

Think of this as a smaller Katrina situation. Whether some relief will come in the form of support from FEMA or similar agencies, as we saw in the Gulf, we don’t know. In the long run, we are expecting to see increasing numbers of residents choose to move out of the area to seek employment, since the recovery time in the area will be lengthy. As a result, we are beginning to have conversations with our owners to find a balance of how to respond to these expected delinquencies until there is some sort of announcement from the government, which right now has bigger issues to deal with.

We also expect shortages of building materials that may be needed, not to mention that, with the loss of normal distribution points such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, just getting those items will be a challenge.

In the short run, the lack of housing is going to become more critical. Just since Monday, we have already filled all our few vacant apartments and all the notices we had already had for the end of the month. This demand will only get stronger over the next few weeks. Throw in the expected influx of construction workers expected in the next month or so, and it will be interesting how that may intersect with people leaving the area in search of employment.

This certainly underscores the importance of having your disaster response plan in place and communicated to residents, as well as your staff knowing what direction to give in those situations.

In discussing this with my regional property manager assigned to the area, Laura Arnett, she continues to marvel at the Midwestern attitude of looking out for your neighbor. A number of the emergency personnel she spoke with were equally amazed. For instance, the streets in the “zone” are relatively clear already and passable. In contrast, they told us that some of the streets in Tuscaloosa are still blocked.

We have also been proud of how the industry has responded. The local IREM chapter, Apartment Association of Kansas City and KC Metropolitan Board of Realtors have all responded with gathering relief and getting it delivered to the Joplin area. (The AAKC will be using our property in Webb City as their staging place.)