CHARITON COUNTY – Hundreds of residents of Chariton County and other surrounding areas worked together to support victims of the Amtrak train derailment that occurred in Mendon on Monday.
On the day of the incident, the local K-12 school, Northwestern, opened its gymnasium for people to huddle, eat, charge their phones and figure out next steps.
According to Northwest Superintendent Eric Hoyt, no one stayed overnight at the school, but there were staff who stayed after midnight to help.
“Our community has come together and that’s a really wonderful thing,” Hoyt said. “I think this small town in America is sometimes overlooked for its power and importance. Everyone in our area has given up what they were doing yesterday to come and help, which is pretty special.”
Blake Burs is a high school math teacher and a track and basketball coach at Northwestern. He was on his way home from the shootout of his college girls’ basketball game when his bus driver informed him that he would have to be dropped off at school so she could catch a bus bigger.
Burs said he was the first person on campus until first responders and other administrators showed up soon after.
He stayed at school until about 10 p.m. on Monday and returned to school at 9 a.m. to help clean up from the night before.
“It’s amazing the support the community has given, just donations of food, water…nurses, staff, anyone from the community has come out and supported this incident,” Burs said. .
A family from Sumner, a town just 10 minutes from Mendon, owns Habitat Flats, a hunting lodge that houses more than 30 people.
Tuesday evening, they welcome 14 Amtrak employees who needed shelter.
“I love it, as it’s what I do all the time, so it’s really like nothing to me,” said Randi Smith, manager at Habitat Flats.
Smith said that although she’s from the area, she didn’t realize the impact her community could have.
“I know small town communities, you know, that come together, but that was crazy,” she said.
Her husband, Tracy Smith, works for the Burling Northern Santa Fe Railroad. He said trains like the one that derailed Monday are built for speed. In his experience, there are near misses all the time, but they have to hope nothing tragic ever happens.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow because everyday you go to work, and that’s the worst case scenario,” he said.
Randi and Tracy’s daughter, Gracie Smith, is a nurse at Carroll County Memorial Hospital. Although it’s not the closest hospital to the area, she said there were nurses from across central Missouri to help on Monday.
“It was a sight to behold and I will never forget it,” she said.
Gracie Smith attended Northwestern when she was in high school, but said she had no plans to return under those circumstances.
She said that at first she was scared because she didn’t know what to expect, but in the end her hard work paid off.
“It’s quite rewarding for me to know that we were all there to help everyone when they needed it,” Gracie Smith said.
His father said it came from a nurse or a teacher, he expected no less from his community.
“It makes me feel good that the community that I live in, you know, doesn’t shy away from anything they do to help out,” Tracy Smith said.