Law enforcement agents maintained checkpoints and continued patrols through an Ozark neighborhood hit hard by an EF2 tornado.
The Christian County Sheriff’s Office maintained a mobile command post on May 2, two days after the tornado swept through the Rivers and Waterford subdivisions, damaging more than 70 homes off of State Route NN, Waterford Road and Melton Road.
“Our main function now is to provide security for the residents,” Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole said. “We’re working posts with the police department and maintaining security for the residents, allowing them time to get their personal property secure, their houses secure and do what they need to do.”
Deputies, Ozark police officers and Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers banded together to help people impacted by the tornado. They are also in the neighborhoods to keep out any would-be thieves.
“We’ve not had any reports of stealing or looting in the county,” Cole said.
The same held true for tornado-impacted homes that fall inside the Ozark city limits, according to Lt. Derek Hill of the Ozark Police Department.
“We’re doing a pretty good job of saturating the area. Law enforcement has a pretty strong presence at this point, so we are completely and totally aware of the potential possibilities and we’re taking steps to thwart those (potential theft) efforts,” Hill said.
Extra patrols are likely to continue for some time. Hill was uncertain as of the morning of May 2 how long police would continue manning checkpoints at each street that enters the Waterford subdivision.
“They will see an increased police presence throughout the rebuild effort,” Hill said. “Even if the command post goes away and the checkpoints go away, we will have a heavy police presence up here as long as there are houses that are being fixed and rebuilt.”
The exact level of police presence, including the checkpoints, is assessed multiple times each day.
“Once all the homes are secure and everybody is safe and property is secured and safe, I think we’ll be able to go back to normal operations,” Cole said.
Both the Christian County Sheriff’s Office and the Ozark police are using extra manpower in response to the tornado.
“We’ve called in extra resources, deputies that were off duty to come in and help man those posts, and obviously right after the tornado, several officers and deputies came and searched homes in a rescue effort,” Cole said.
As cleanup and repairs progress, police advise anyone who isn’t a Waterford subdivision resident or a company under contract to work there to stay out.
“As the residents who were affected by the tornado are rebuilding and gathering their items, we’re just making sure that people who are supposed to be in the neighborhood are in the neighborhood and people who aren’t supposed to be—if we can decipher to them, are not,” Hill said.
Tornados such as the one that hit often attract “disaster tourists,” curious persons who want to drive through and look at the damage.
“They’re looking, they’re curious and that’s understandable, but it does cause quite a bit of congestion in the area,” Hill said.
More than anything, Hill said, disaster tourism creates traffic problems on streets not designed for high volumes of traffic, but there are other problems that people who drive through the neighborhood to look at tornado scenery cause.
“The people who were affected—it’s their life, it’s their house, it’s everything that’s personal to them,” Hill said. “There is a personal aspect to it. From a safety aspect, it creates a lot of congestion and it does provide a lot of extra work for us to just try to keep a general eye on things.”
Police are also on the lookout for scammers and non-reputable contractors aiming to make a quick dollar off of tornado victims. Unscrupulous business owners are more difficult for police to identify at a checkpoint, but the Ozark Police Department warns homeowners to be wary of anyone they hire to conduct repair and cleanup work.
“It’s hard to tell,” Hill said. “We would just remind people to be diligent whenever they are signing up contractors to do work on their house. You want to make sure that they are a reputable business, that they are insured, that they—at the very least—that they show up and their vehicles are marked as contracting vehicles, you know, they have logos on the side.”
Property owners in Waterford and the Rivers may also notice volunteers from the Christian County Emergency Management Agency’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The volunteers and staffing the command post and walking through the neighborhood helping responders and residents in many ways, whether it’s connecting residents to resources or simply providing food and water.
“The CERT team has been great. They are picking up in areas that we might do sometimes,” Hill said. “It’s just the notifying and communicating with the citizens to let them know what resources are available.”