JOPLIN, Mo. – Most of the debris from the May 22 tornado has been removed, leaving empty spaces where homesites once stood in Joplin, Mo., a city of about 55,000 residents in the southwesternmost corner of the state, bordering Oklahoma.

The awful smells reported recently are non-existent. Left behind after the debris removal, which had to be completed by Aug. 7 in order to meet FEMA deadlines, are houses and skeletons of houses waiting to be labeled for demolition or renovation.

"Joplin's like a donut," said John Cody, a patient at St. John's Mercy Hospital. "There's a big hole in the middle and the city is around it, slowly being rebuilt."

One of two major regional medical centers, Mercy hospital still stands, debris frosting its roof like an Iron Giant dessert waiting to be consumed. A statue of Jesus leans on a temporary fence, greeting visitors to the makeshift emergency room in a military dome tent city.

Mayor Mike Woolston, a no-nonsense kind of guy, says the next phase in the city's rebuilding process, which he estimates will take another two years, is to identify structures still standing--though inhabitable--and demolish those structures, for safety's sake.

Empty lots, some with wiry remnants of trees that (though showing foliage) that arborists say won't make it to next spring, are the new common sight, replacing the original images of the debris-filled aftermath.

Mayor Woolston, in a brief meeting with the McAllen Seven said he was initially surprised by the continuing global coverage of Joplin tornado--with news crews from across the U.S., France, Japan, etc., drawn to the city--until media personnel told him the devastation is so immense, compared to other tornadoes they'd seen.

A few holdouts remain in houses that ought be condemned but inhabited by owners unwilling to tear down and start from scratch. On 26th Street, the Richardson household is intent on staying put. No running water. No electricity--save from a generator in the backyard. Electric poles jut out among the empty lots and scattered scraggly trees but there is no electricity in entire neighborhoods. Hope and stubborness prevails.

"I'll be mowing the lawn pretty soon," says Mr. Richardson, though the grass is generally missing where bulldozers and tractors left their mark. "We'll be okay."