NEWTON COUNTY, Mo. (Army News Service, May 12, 2008) - Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard provided emergency aid to locals after a tornado ripped through the area on Saturday.

George Philliber couldn't put into words how much he appreciated the presence of Missouri Guard Soldiers in his neighborhood after a tornado destroyed several outbuildings and vehicles on his property in Newtonia Saturday.

"We are so blessed that most of our home was spared, but many of our neighbors are digging out of the debris of their homes today. In fact, the roof of my neighbor's house here to the west is in the back of my pick-up truck, right where the tornado put it," Philliber said. "These Soldiers are out here watching the entrance to our neighborhood, making sure no one comes in that doesn't live here. I can't even say how much I appreciate their presence."

Nearly 20 Citizen-Soldiers with the Missouri National Guard's 203rd Engineer Battalion arrived in Newtonia and Granby early Sunday morning - two cities hardest hit by the tornado that killed 12 people in Newton County alone.

"The Guard's number-one concern is (to prevent) sightseers going on scene to gawk at the devastation, which causes problems with traffic and safety where there are downed trees and power-lines and buildings that may not be safe, and we're keeping an eye out for looters," said 1st Lt. Troy Sandbothe, Missouri National Guard liaison officer for Newton County Emergency Management's Emergency Operations Center.

"We're working hand-in-hand with the civil authorities - like the highway patrol and the sheriff's department - to secure the areas so that residents and emergency workers can assess the damage and start clean-up efforts," Sandbothe said.

Gary Roark, Newton County Emergency Management director, said early estimates had not yet been reached as to the amount of homes and other structures affected by the storm, but as of Sunday afternoon, several thousand residents across the full width of Newton County were without electrical power, with 12 deaths confirmed and more than 80 injuries reported.

"We've finalized the search and rescue efforts on both the east and west sides of the county, and we're beginning to scale down our activities," Roark said. "We've had a lot of assistance in the area from fire departments and law enforcement, from all over Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma."

Among those assisting were Citizen-Soldiers from the 203rd Engineer Battalion's 294th Engineer Company in Carthage and from its Forward Support Company in Neosho and Joplin.

Pfc. Rhiannon Lien with the Forward Support Company stood guard at a hard-hit neighborhood entrance in Newtonia. Lien said she was amazed by the number of "average, every-day citizens" who wanted to help.

"There's support coming in from all over the place," Lien said. "It's incredible how many people have stopped to ask what they could do and how they could help."

Wanting to help their neighbors is a sentiment shared by the Soldiers themselves, despite the fact that many of them had little or no sleep the night before in preparation for their long day in the devastated areas of the storm's path.

"It's an honor to be here doing whatever we can to help these good folks," said Sgt. Kathy Desourdy, Forward Support Company Soldier, who was directing traffic Sunday afternoon and securing another Newtonia neighborhood devastated by the storm. "I live in Neosho, so I know a lot of these folks out here. They are truly my neighbors."

Spc. Russell Fenno, another Forward Support Company Soldier helping in Newtonia, said in a time of such horror for so many area residents, finding anything to feel good about is a challenge, but it does feel good to be able to help his fellow Missourians.

"If it were me who lost my home or everything I owned, I'd want someone to help," he said. "So I'm glad to be out here and to be able to be the one helping others. That's what the Guard is all about. That's what we do, and it's an honor to do it."

The 203rd Engineer Battalion was personally affected by the storm as one of its own, Staff Sgt. Eddie Hukill, Joplin recruiter, was caught by the mile-wide tornado while driving on Iris Road on the western side of Newton County. Hukill sustained a head injury and a broken arm when a tree limb was thrown through the windshield of his minivan. He underwent surgery Sunday night and is listed in stable condition at Freeman Hospital in Joplin. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Page last updated Thu September 29th, 2011 at 13:44