OGDEN -- When Sandy Ladd stood above the city of Joplin, Mo., last week and viewed the damage caused by a May 22 tornado, the sight took her breath away.
"It was like an atomic bomb went off," said the supervisor of the crime scene investigation unit of the Weber County Sheriff's Office.
Branches and leaves -- and even the bark -- had been ripped from all of the trees. Medical supplies had been tossed almost 65 miles away from the local hospital. Buildings were toppled and cars were crushed by a tornado packing 200 mph winds.
Ladd is also part of a national Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. She and Sheriff's Lt. Mark Lowther were given about 12 hours' notice May 26 that they were headed to Joplin to help with the identification of bodies.
Lowther said DMORT team members are trained in various fields and are activated when disaster strikes.
The team primarily processes remains by interviewing families with missing loved ones. Team members ask about any distinguishing marks, tattoos or jewelry, and log the identifying markings that can help return the deceased to their loved ones.
"I don't think there is anything more honorable than to return somebody to their loved ones," Lowther said.
Ladd and Lowther said the devastation they encountered in Joplin was so extensive, they were shocked that more people had not been killed.
"The community had lost so much," Lowther said. "They had such little warning, and it was mass amounts of devastation."
Ladd said describing the damage is difficult, and even photographs of the damage don't give a full picture of how the city was demolished.
Ladd and Lowther worked 12-hour shifts, with Lowther working to distinguish identifying marks on bodies and Ladd entering into a database information family members gave the volunteers.
The two were housed in a college dormitory. They initially estimated they would stay in Missouri for two weeks, but Lowther returned after five days and Ladd after seven.
Ladd said when she wasn't working, she made an effort to keep in touch with family, but also wanted to survey as much of the area as she could.
"I wanted to know why I was there and remember why I was working," she said.
Both Lowther and Ladd said they witnessed the spirit of Joplin residents while touring the city. People were donating grilled food, manual labor -- anything they could to help strangers in need.
Words of thanks were spray-painted on pieces of wood and on the sides of homes, and American flags had been hung everywhere, Lowther said, as a sign of hope that the city will rebuild.
"I know they'll recover."