STOCKTON, Mo. – After the Civil War left this southwest Missouri (search) town in tatters, residents here rebuilt the town square with brick and stone, thinking it would stand the test of time.
It took a tornado (search) just a few minutes Sunday night to rip it all apart and devastate this Missouri Ozarks community of about 2,000. After the storm that city officials say killed three locals, no one is envying the task of starting all over -- again.
"This is just total devastation," said Mike Conyers of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, an association of the state's municipal electric utilities.
"It's like where do you start, what do you do?" Conyers asked.
One day after the storm, chain saws whined and portable generators growled, signaling a comeback. Electric crews scrambled to restore power to priority sites such as a nursing home, the town's sewer systems and city wells, with hopes of returning electricity to the rest of town by the end of the week.
Many paused during Monday's cleanup to absorb the destruction that some likened to a giant lawn mower, sheering giant oaks as if they were blades of grass while leaving homes and businesses in heaps.
"I've never seen anything like this, in pictures or otherwise," said Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, who toured the city by air Monday. "The word devastation doesn't do it justice. I'm surprised more people were not injured or killed."
While the Cedar County courthouse appeared to be all right, many storefronts no longer were distinguishable. Two banks were in ruin, as was the post office and much of a newly restored community building where bluegrass bands had played monthly.
"Stockton square was so historic, but it's not there anymore," said Patty Thompson, a local councilwoman.
A drug store was reduced to a single wall, with a few bottles clinging to a stubborn set of shelving. A Great Southern bank branch was left roofless. Its front wall? Gone, along with the drive-through area.
"I'm not sure where the roof landed," said Doug Marrs, a bank vice president who was helping ensure that no confidential papers of the branch's clients were out in the open.
A stone's throw from what had been the town's library, funeral home director Robin Fischer grasped for words to eulogize his town of rubble, toppled trees, twisted metal and glass shards.
"It's unbelievable it could do this much damage," said Fischer, 50. "Just to look out this way and see nothing there. There always had been trees. Now they're just splinters. You can't figure out what's missing because there's nothing to use as a reference point.
"It's all gone."
Now, the initial shock for some in the town formerly known as Lancaster and Fremont before going with Stockton in 1859 in honor of a military man has turned to resolve.
"It can be rebuilt," said Ian Hafer, Stockton's emergency management director. "It's going to take a quite a while to recover from the economic and emotional loss. One thing's for sure -- a lot of people won't ever forget this."