The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 3, 2011

Group trying to reunite families, rescued photos in wake of Joplin tornado

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The tides have turned at Carthage First Baptist Church.

The boxes of processed photos from the May 22 tornado in Joplin now outweigh the photos still waiting to be processed by a margin of 2-to-1.

On one side of an upstairs room, there are 20 boxes of carefully cleaned, numbered, scanned and archived photographs waiting to be claimed by their owners.

On the other side, 10 boxes await processing.

The numbers of photos lost and then found have fluctuated significantly since the Globe first spoke with the volunteers in early June. At that time, less than 500 had been collected and posted by Lost Photos Project founder Angela Walters, of Pryor, Okla.

Walters soon realized that with more coming in each day, she would need help. By July, the church had signed on to help in a partnership with Walters, the American Red Cross and Office Depot. At the time, the group believed it had about 8,000 photos.


On Monday, volunteer Margaret Hagenbaumer estimated that the number has swelled to 27,000.

“But we just got some this week; we are still getting them,” she said.

The room looks different than it did in July. Then, it was filled with folding tables strewn with found photographs, many still damp and covered in grime. Fans and a dehumidifier blew, and volunteers worked to gently clean the photos with fabric softener contributed by a local coin-operated laundry.

Since then, the group has acquired scanners, a computer, archival envelopes and boxes, and has put in place a system that rivals that of the National Archives.

Hagenbaumer, who coordinates the scheduling of volunteers, said five teams of three people work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as occasional evenings and Saturdays.

Each team member has a task. One scans the photos to digital images. One places a sticker on the back of each photo, and a corresponding sticker on an envelope with the box number, folder number and photograph number. One checks the numbers.

“The least little mistake in the numbering system could really foul us up,” Hagenbaumer said. “We critique each other very politely.”

The digital versions of the photographs are put on a flash drive and given to Walters, who posts the images to

“If somebody says, ‘Oh that’s my picture,’ you can go through the file,” said Hagenbaumer. “They tell us the number; we can get the folder and hand them the picture.”

Volunteers keep all letters included with the photos from those who found them.

“We tried to kind of make any notes of where they were found, because meteorologists are interested in the information of where these pictures landed, which told them a lot of information about how tornadoes track,” Hagenbaumer said.

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