Jeff Neuenschwander took these photos with his cell phone as he searched for Melinda Miller, one of his rental location managers, in her neighborhood in Joplin, Mo.
By Jessica Carrick
Growing up in the heart of tornado alley, Jeff Neuenschwander, an Avis licensee serving Southwest Missouri, had been through it all before - but not like this one. The tornado that hit Joplin on Sunday, May 22 was classified as an F5 (out of 5) on the Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale. This is the most devastating tornado in the country since 1947.
Charting the storm as it crossed the state, Neuenschwander discovered it was heading for the house of Melinda Miller, the manager of his Joplin store.
"I texted her to see if she was OK, literally as I was watching the debris cloud on the radar on TV," says Neuenschwander, who lives halfway between Springfield and Joplin. With the phones out, Miller texted him that her house was damaged and she wasn't able to drive her car. "At that point I took off to try and find her," he says.
Neuenschwander arrived a half hour before dark. The initial emergency response teams waved him through thanks to an orange vest he was wearing.
"You could see the devastation and the gas fires," he recounts. "I tried to figure out where her house was but I couldn't tell the streets; there were no street signs and no houses. I could hear people screaming, and there were people trying to dig out others who were trapped."
Neuenschwander never did find Miller's house, but he ultimately found her in the neighborhood.
"We didn't know until after it was all over how bad our house was," says Miller, who was in the hallway with her boyfriend and three dogs when the roof was torn off. "And then we walked down the road and saw that just a few houses away there were houses that were completely leveled."
Neuenschwander loaded them up and took them back to the safety of his house.