Mementos scattered by Joplin tornado gradually returned home

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Part of the struggle of recovering from disasters is not just rebuilding for the future, but also preserving the past.

Two months ago, after an EF-5 tornado took Joplin to the brink of annihilation — damaging or destroying roughly 8,000 structures and killing 160 people — Missouri resident Abi Almandinger started collecting lost photos and mementos, and posting them on Facebook in the hope that they’d somehow find their way back to their owners.

A Los Angeles Times story about her at the time began:

‘On Friday morning in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Abi Almandinger was running perhaps the most peculiar search-and-rescue mission in town.

The 38-year-old Carthage, Mo., woman was looking not for victims, not for a wallet, purse or pet, but for strangers’ lost photos and mementoes.


At Christ’s Church, just a few blocks outside Joplin’s disaster zone, pastor Tim Chambers gave Almandinger some things people had found on the church lawn, including a water-warped Polaroid of a young woman dated Christmas 1979 — and a wrinkled and yellowed discharge letter for Staff Sgt. Floyd E. Huff, dated Dec. 21, 1945, and signed by Harry S. Truman.’ Read more.

Since then, Almandinger has reconnected thousands of photos and documents with their owners — including Huff’s discharge letter.

‘Somebody in California [who saw the story in the L.A. Times] called a distant cousin in Arkansas, who called a distant cousin in Colorado — who happened to be Floyd Huff’s son,’ she said.

She delivered the memento by hand, a moment captured by an NBC affiliate in Kansas City.

‘I feel so honored just to be able to give them back just a small piece of their family history,’ Almandinger said of her work with tornado survivors. ‘They all want to tell me their stories, but it’s difficult to hear about the tragedies they’ve had to go through.’

She tries to make her deliveries by hand, on Tuesdays. This Tuesday, for example, she said she’d been ‘in tears all day.’ The delivery of a single 8.5 x 11 photo of local woman’s son hit her particularly hard.

‘I come to find out that both of her parents died in the storm, and I found her son is going to be a senior in high school,’ Almandinger said.

The recovery in Joplin is far from over, and so is her mission: She said she’d keep uploading and delivering lost photos for ‘as long as it takes.’

Her original Facebook page is now accompanied by a separate album of success stories.


In shattered Joplin, kids head back to class

Satellite images of Joplin -- before and after the tornado

Obama arrives in Joplin to tour tornado-ravaged Missouri city

-- Matt Pearce

Twitter / mattdpearce