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A Kansas landfill takes 16,000 truckloads of Joplin tornado debris

When a tornado tears through a town like it did in Joplin, Mo., on May 22, it leaves an ocean of rubble in its wake. That rubble has to go somewhere, and in Joplin’s case, it goes to the landfill in nearby Galena, Kan.  “We went from 50 tons a day (before the storm) to 5000 tons a day,” says Landfill Manager Don Cartwright.  “At any time, there were probably 45 to 50 trucks in here: it was a zoo.”

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

With ease and speed, picker operator Jeremy Stephens from New Franklin, Mo., unloads debris from Joplin's May 22 tornado at the landill in nearby Galena, Kan. on Tuesday, Aug. 16. So far, 16,500 truckloads totaling 145,133 tons of debris have ended up at this landfill.

Ninety-five percent of the debris from Joplin is going to Galena where it gets picked through by hand to remove metal, tires and hazardous household waste.  It's amounted to 16,500 truckloads totaling 145,133 tons. What’s left is mostly wood, siding, shingles, and trees, or more accurately, parts of trees.  Cars and appliances have already been recycled at another location. 

Kelly Ryan, Debris Mission Manager with the Army Corps of Engineers says that so far nearly 1.5 million cubic yards of debris have been collected from streets and private residences. If it were spread out over a football field, the pile would be almost 750 feet high (see graphic below). Another 15,000 cubic yards is scheduled to be removed by Sept. 21. 

Army Corps of Engineers

Most of the debris arrives in trucks called “pickers.”  These trucks have a small, backhoe-like attachment on the back that allows the operator to pick the debris off the ground, and fill the truck, then in turn empty the truck at the landfill using the same method.  After the tornado, picker operator Jeremy Stephens from New Franklin, Mo., left his job hauling logs for a lumber company and started hauling debris in Joplin.  “We worked seven-twelves for the first thirty days,” he says, “Now we work seven-elevens. ... Every day it gets a little further out and a little higher. “ Stephens says of the debris pile, “It’s probably grown sixty feet (in height) since I started.”

More from msnbc.com's reporting trip to Joplin:

Photoblog: Tornado shelters dominate Joplin's rebuilding plans

Photoblog: Tornado 'helps' couple downsize

Photoblog: After tornado's harsh lesson, Joplin's child survivors return to school

Story: Joplin students head back to a new high-tech high school, in the mall

Slideshow: Joplin, before and after tornado cleanup