Source: Sherman Publications

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In the Joplin zone
Ortonville Wireless Zone owner lends hand following Missouri F-5 tornado

by David Fleet

June 15, 2011

From left: Joshua Bommarito, Joe Bommarito and Steve Bloom in Joplin, Missouri. Photo provided.
Local businessman Joe Bommarito described the hours just after dark as, "eerie."

"In the distance you could hear people whistling or calling for their pets," said Bommarito, owner of Wireless Zone Ortonville, 250 Ortonville Road..

"There's no lights and thousands of homes are just in rubble—there's no home for the dogs or cats to come back to, they're just roaming around."

Bommarito reflected on a recent trip to assist the residents of Joplin, following the May 22 tornado which ripped through the town of about 50,000 located in southwestern Missouri. The twister left in its path 139 known dead and destroyed at least 8,000 houses and apartment buildings.

Bommarito, along with his son, Josh, and Steve Bloom, who owns Wireless Zone stores in Livingston County, traveled to Joplin on May 27 to provide communications support for Verizon customers and others in need.

"I saw the devastation after the tornado and asked, 'What can I do?,'" he said. "We donate a percentage of our profits to the Verizon Foundation and many of our vendors made significant contributions to help the people of Joplin out."

The local team packed about 150 cell phones, car chargers, wall chargers and emergency blankets into a fifth-wheel and set up in a parking lot where temporary cell towers called, "COWS" or cell towers on wheels were raised up for communications.

"Residents' cell phones are just gone—there's no power to homes, so communications is pretty much nonexistent. There were volunteers from all over the country," said Bommarito. "Many stopped by the fifth-wheel to charge up their phones. The volunteers' stories were just unreal. Some people would show up with chainsaws and say, 'Where do you need us?'"

Bommarito noticed many vehicles had a spraypainted orange 'X' indicating the Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search & Rescue Task Force Marking System had marked 'not safe.'

"It was devastating in Joplin," said Bommarito. "It's a war zone. The National Guard was on every corner,, people were driving cars with windows knocked out with glass all over the dashboard."

"But overall, the city seems to be doing better each day—FEMA and the American Red Cross are working down there, but still the community is not going to be rebuilt anytime soon. We visited the Joplin Humane Society and already there were 250 dogs housed there. Many people just have no place for themselves, not to mention their pets. That was about a week after the tornado—I could only imagine what the rescue people found just afterward."

Bommarito returned to Oakland County on May 31.