In Joplin, Mo., our company, GateHouse Media, lost an office building that housed the Big Nickel. I don't know what I would do if I drove to one of the locations I manage to find the building leveled.

It is impossible for me to see a massive tornado hit a city without thinking back to May 3, 1999. After living through this storm, I can tell you nothing you do to help the people of Joplin, Mo., is too small.

There is no insignificant action. You can't solve the problems the people are facing, but you can be part of the solution.

On May 3, 1999, I heard that a weather situation was developing that would come close to our newspaper's coverage area. My wife got home from a day of teaching pre-school, and I told her to jump in the car. A tornado was coming.

I had been through the severe weather classes on how to recognize and avoid tornadoes and other outbreaks of dangerous weather. I imagined a beautiful photo of a tornado spinning through an open field that would make a great front-page picture for the next day's newspaper.

We headed to an area that was a safe distance from where the storm was reported to be circulating. Soon, those reports were found to be inaccurate, as one small funnel followed by two more began dancing out of the clouds directly toward our location.

It didn't help matters that our escape route was a muddy section line-road, and we were being pounded by quarter-sized hail. The three funnels soon became one larger tornado, and we were fortunate enough to reach the highway and find a path to safety. As I drove, my wife shot photos out the window.

She was shaken up when she saw the vortex rip through a two-story home owned by people we knew. But the devastation was just beginning. As the funnel grew, so did the wind speeds. When it left our county, it was a mile wide and tearing foundation from the ground.

It stayed on track for hours, leaving a swath of destruction and dozens of victims. That same scene has played out in Kansas, Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri cities in the past few weeks.

On the day after the storm passes, you realize there are problems. It will take weeks or even months to determine the final toll these storms take.
It was almost a decade before the hangars at the Chickasha, Okla., airport were rebuilt. Some neighborhoods were never rebuilt. Some people's lives were never the same.

It is imperative that we reach out to those who are hurting. What would you do if you lost your home or car in a storm? Many are uninsured. More are underinsured. They need help.

In Joplin, Mo., our company, GateHouse Media, lost an office building that housed the Big Nickel. I don't know what I would do if I drove to one of the locations I manage to find the building leveled.

On Monday, I updated my employee contact list so that if we ever endure such a tragedy, I will be able to check on my colleagues and know immediately if they are safe. We have to be as prepared as we can before emergencies.

But once tragedy strikes, we have to respond quickly to help those in need. If your church or civic group is collecting donations to help storm victims, please let us know. We would love to let others know how they can help and maximize your efforts.

None of us can solve the problem by ourselves. But we can all help.