On Sunday, May 22, residents of Joplin, MO, had 17 minutes' warning before a massive tornado blew through the town. A total of 160 people died in the horrific storm, which caused almost $3 billion in damage across the area. Underwood Dental Lab and Images 32 Dental Lab were completely destroyed; here are their stories.
Underwood Dental Lab
Tony Hood had just enough time to hide in the bathroom before the destruction hit. Fortunately, Hood--Underwood Dental Lab's C&B Department Head--made it out safely, but the recently renovated building was not as lucky.
The lab lost almost everything: equipment, supplies, office furniture, even its company checks were destroyed. "We're not really sure how much casework was lost because everything was in ruins, even our computer, records and tracking system," says Caroline Underwood, who co-owns the lab with her husband, Randy. The total cost of damage is estimated at $250,000, including the building, although insurance will cover some of the costs.
The Underwoods found a new location for their lab: an old restaurant about a mile and a half up the road. Renovation was a challenge, with a lot of time and effort put into starting from scratch. Underwood credits one of her five technicians, Al Romero, for jumping in and taking control of the rebuilding process, removing old booths, demolishing counters, hanging sheetrock, tearing up carpet and getting the walls ready for painting. "He was there Monday through Sunday, every day, and never asked for a cent," says Underwood.
The laboratory opened in its new 1,800-sq-ft facility on July 5th. Since half of its clients were hit as hard as the lab was, it's slowly working its way back up to full capacity.
If there's a brighter side to the tragedy, it's been the outpouring of support the lab has received from the Joplin community and the industry alike. Family, friends and church members were out every day, sifting through the rubble and helping with the cleanup. Underwood praises Connie Beaver from Patterson Supply, Ryan Thompson from Dentsply, and Brandon Medling from Ivoclar Vivadent, among others, who helped with supplies and ordering, loaner equipment, and stocks of teeth and porcelain.
Labs as far as 100 miles away helped with cases, with the promise to send the business back as soon as Underwood reopened. Randy's former boss, Jim Werner of Werner Dental Lab in Independence, MO, offered several pieces of equipment he had in storage and made it clear he'd take payment only when they were able to make it.
Overall, Underwood feels this is a story of human kindness and compassion. "It is a tremendous feeling to be a part of this community at this time," she says. "This is a total rebirth of our lab, with a totally new perspective. We've just been so blessed."
Editor's note: The Underwoods are still looking for miscellaneous supplies; if you'd like to help, please contact Randy Underwood at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 417-781-8080.
Images 32 Dental Lab
When the tornado hit, luckily no one was inside Images 32 Dental Lab; the 1,500-sq-ft building was completely demolished. Out of the rubble, volunteers were only able to salvage metal finishing and casting benches; all other equipment and supplies were lost.
Since Jennifer Bobski, owner of the three-person C&B laboratory, and technician Debra Brill also lost their homes, it took a week before they could even start to think about the future of the laboratory. Brill was able to buy a still-standing house, and Bobski is rebuilding her home. "You think about today, not tomorrow," Brill says. "It knocked us off balance."
A month after the disaster, the lab reopened in a 900-sq-ft location in an office building owned by Bobski's stepfather. Although the space is smaller and not as centrally located as the original lab, it had a valuable commodity: electricity, which was not widely functional throughout the town.
Of its 12 clients, Images 32 has five dentists who are back up and running. Most of them are working out of other dentists' offices, some only half days or weekends when the space is available. The lab hopes to build up to full speed as its bigger clients hit their stride. "It's a start," says Brill. "We're ready for normal to return. But this is probably our new normal."
The silver lining for Images 32 is the help and support it's received from people near and far. Volunteers still arrive in Joplin every day from as far as California and Texas to help chop trees and clear rubble. "Somebody will just pull up in your driveway and ask if you need help with anything," says Brill.
Helping hands came from the dental industry as well. The NADL sent a check from the Disaster Relief Fund and Zahn Dental, Images 32's main supplier, checked in with Brill right after the storm to see what the lab needed and how it could help. "Somehow Zahn got a hold of my cell number," says Brill. "There were no phone lines, no power, but they were able to help us start to get things rolling."