Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Twister's Fury Tests a Town's Will to Rebuild ; Pierce City Residents Have Determination but Many Firms Lacked Insurance and Faces a Tough Road Ahead

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Twister's Fury Tests a Town's Will to Rebuild ; Pierce City Residents Have Determination but Many Firms Lacked Insurance and Faces a Tough Road Ahead

Article excerpt

In this tiny town that is home to the state horseshoe champion, five churches, and zero stoplights, a one-mile stretch of road and storefronts once defined what it meant to be from here instead of the next town over.

The historic white gazebo, the imposing stone armory, the strip of red-brick buildings dating back more than a century - each stood as a reminder of why Pierce City had survived economic hardship and the relentless growth of trees, bushes, and vines that seemed to push through most every corner of brick and stone here in this corner of the Ozarks.

Now, Commercial Street, which residents call "Main Street," looks like a city under siege, a shell of brick, broken glass, and fallen power cables that hang like slack jump-rope from wood pilings.

Improbably, residents reflect, one of the tornadoes that swept through the nation's Southern plains on Sunday chose their tiny square mile of Earth through which to cut its path, killing one resident and leaving most of the downtown in ruins. The destruction of most every business and building that seemed to embody their town has prompted many residents here to question whether Pierce City will exist in a year, or if it even exists now. Many businesses here were insured, and several say they cannot afford to rebuild. It's a conundrum many small towns across the US face after destruction by a natural disaster.

Sunday's tornadoes cut through many rural areas, and even a few suburban ones, in Tennessee, Kansas, and Missouri killing at least 37 people. In Pierce City, eight people are still missing and it will take searchers a while to comb through splintered debris, a situation hampered by new storm warnings.

Still, many residents say they are hopeful the town will recover. They're buoyed by news that the grocery store will rebuild. A few stories, such as how one woman discovered two kittens alive and well under the rubble, bring a dash of cheer. Now, the citizens of Pierce are having to find new ways to describe what is most enduring about their community.

"There are too many people holding everything together for Pierce City to disappear," says Linda Yonker, whose great- grandparents shopped in downtown Pierce City in the 19th century. "We've all been neighbors for decades, and that won't change."

Much of the shock among Pierce residents resulted from a startling event Sunday morning: The armory didn't hold. Its roof gave way even as people continued to pack into its basement. "I didn't think it was possible it would ever blow over," says Edmund Witt, a retired Army reservist who remembers fleeing to the armory's basement as a child when a tornado swept through.

That feeling of insecurity has been magnified by the destruction of Commercial Street, which stretched four blocks.

The quaint stone and red-brick buildings on both sides of the street were more than a century old and had been recently refurbished, giving rise to the town's booming antique trade. …

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