'The most devastated area I've seen': Retired nurse returns from Joplin disaster

News-DemocratJune 21, 2011 

For two weeks, Al Boucher tended to the injured, aided the homeless and consoled the bereaved in Joplin, Mo.

Boucher, 74, of Fairview Heights is a retired nurse who spends his time volunteering with the American Red Cross at disaster sites around the United States. Last week, he returned to Fairview Heights from Joplin.

Before Joplin, he was in Southern Illinois to help with the flooding. Before the flooding, he was in North Carolina aiding victims of a tornado there.

"I've been to other tornado sites and they were more scattered," Boucher said. "Joplin is the most devastated area I've seen. It hit right through the center of town, and there is just so much destruction and so many fatalities. The news media just doesn't do it justice until you are right there seeing it."

The May 22 F5 twister left 153 people dead and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and devastated the hospital. The city is still cleaning up.

"St. John's Hospital took a direct hit, and a building that large was moved off its foundation," Boucher said. "That's an impressive tornado."

Boucher hasn't been home much this spring.

"This year has been an exceptional year for all the disasters and sooner or later you start to run short of personnel so they are calling the same people over and over again," he said. "I've been to floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, but I haven't made it to any of the fires yet. We haven't even come into hurricane season yet."

Since March 31, the Red Cross has launched 41 large disaster relief operations across 28 states and opened more than 260 shelters. More than 11,000 Red Cross workers have served more than 2.6 million meals and snacks and distributed more than 1.2 million comfort and clean up items.

As a registered nurse volunteering with the Red Cross, Boucher helps set up shelters, emergency aid stations and regular service centers.

At Joplin, a multi-agency resource center was set up to provide a central hub for the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Goodwill and "every agency that could help with the disaster relief."

He and other volunteers at the emergency aid stations and shelters provide first aid when needed. They help people get the medications they need. They find replacements for medical equipment lost in the disaster. Red Cross volunteer teams console families who lost loved ones and find out what those families need.

Boucher started volunteering for the Red Cross shortly after Hurricane Katrina. He worked in St. Louis helping hurricane evacuees relocate here.

"One of the most impressive things is that when something like this happens and the community comes together like they do, it makes you proud. It makes you proud to be an American," he said. "They help each other out and they've been helping each other out. People aren't bad, they are inherently good and God is great. It makes you feel good."

On Saturday, he planned to train new nurses to be prepared to respond to disasters.

"For a long time I was one of the very few nurses here with the St. Louis area chapter who would go out on disaster relief so I have stayed very busy," he said. "It's interesting and rewarding at the same time. When you're out there you're able to do something to help these people, some who have lost everything. This is something I believe in very strongly and I'm glad I'm still healthy enough to get out there and do something to help other people."

Joplin still has a long way to go towards recovery, Boucher said.

"It's going to be a matter of years of cleanup and rebuilding," Boucher said. "Materials they don't need at the present time. There have been so many donations of individual material stuff that they have stockpiles. At this point it's a matter of getting rid of the debris and getting it out to start rebuilding. They need cash donations for the rebuilding, that's what they need right now."

For more information or to make a donation for American Red Cross Disaster Relief, visit www.redcross.org or call the Red Cross at 800-733-2767. Texters can text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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