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Joplin, Mo.: Rebuilding in earnest post-twister

A devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. in May left a path of destruction a mile wide and nearly split the city in half.

"Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge arrived on the scene a day after the tornado hit. He recently returned to Joplin and updated the show's viewers Wednesday

Pictures: CBS News on the ground in Joplin

Wragge recalled, "When we arrived, there was still driving rain. It was hard to believe anyone could have survived the massive storm that caused such destruction. So many were missing -- more than 1,000 initially. Everyone helped in the search."

One Joplin resident told Wragge shortly after the tornado hit, "It was like the apocalypse, a war zone."

Rescue workers looked for anyone who might be alive. More than 150 people died.

The sheer force of the tornado ripped Will Norton from his car. When asked what happened, Norton's sister said, "Well, my brother was driving and (my father) said he had his arms around Will when they started flipping, and Will's seat belt snapped, and he flew through the sun roof."

Norton did not survive.

"The Early Show" also visited a local shelter and spoke to people there who were all wondering what was next.

One woman told Wragge her entire home was destroyed. "Roof is gone, everything is destroyed, we lost a cat, we've got two of three pets," she said. "I haven't broken down yet, I'm sure I will when it sinks in."

And Wragge and his team met Heather Marsh and her son, Hayden.

They survived the 200-mile-per-hour winds by seeking shelter in the bathtub.

Heather Marsh told Wragge back in May, "I lay my son down between my legs and I (was) just sitting (with my) body hunched over him, and you can hear the wind inside the house, and you could start feeling the whole house shake."

Over the next few months, about $2 million was donated to help clean up, and at least 300,000 people volunteered.

Wragge returned to Joplin on Aug. 17, the first day of school -- children went to class in a department store that was converted into a school.

Back to school for students in Joplin

And Wragge caught up with Heather and Hayden Marsh. After so much trauma, they were still resilient and hopeful.

When asked if Joplin will come back, Heather Marsh said, "I think so. Honestly, Joplin, not soon afterwards, they picked up and said, 'You know what? 'We gotta get this clean, we gotta get our people back.' They want us to come home. We want to come home."

On "The Early Show" Wednesday, Joplin Mayor Mike Woolston added that many of the town's residents are living near the town and are waiting to return.

"The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) folks told us that, since July, 88 percent of the people displaced by the storm are still within 25 miles; I think that is true," Woolston said. "We do have some people coming back and, in fact, I've heard stories of folks that came here to volunteer were so taken with the community and the community spirit here that they had decided now to move here."

Residents are doing well, Woolston said. "We've had quite a lot of aid come in to help us and donations from organizations and people all over the country, and so the people are settled and getting back to their feet. I think the community, for the most part, is anxious for the city to develop some sort of an overall plan as to what the future is going to be. And we are working very diligently on that and moving forward to -- sometime in the middle of January -- having somewhat of a historic meeting between the city, Chamber of Commerce, the public school system, and an adjacent community that was affected, as well to jointly move forward with an overall master plan of development."

Joplin, Woolston said, is in financial need.

How to help Joplin victims

"We have had quite a lot of clothing, food and water that donated early on and that continues to come in. In fact, last week, we received a donation of 500 new toys to distribute to kids during Christmas, and that was done last week and this week both.

"One of my concerns in the long haul, two years, three years down the road, we may have needs that we don't even recognize now, and I want to make sure that we have some financing available to take care of those and address those needs, and so from my perspective, I think probably a financial need is the greatest thing we have right now."

However, Joplin continues to rise from the rubble. Builders are at work, Woolston said, and some businesses have already rebuilt their facilities.

"You're starting to see quite a number of houses go up," he said. "We probably got in the neighborhood of 3,200 building permits, either new construction or repair permits, and about 200 commercial building permits for rebuild or repair. And so that is ongoing. I think probably we will continue with that. Obviously, the winter will have some effect on the pace of that, but I think we've got a good speed going back."