updated 05/24/2011 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/24/2011 AT 3:15 PM ET
Proving that there is strength – and safety – in numbers, nine members of the expansive Duggar family aided rescue efforts in the devastated Joplin, Mo., after a massive tornado struck the town Sunday night.
“This is the greatest tragedy our area has seen in a long time,” Josh Duggar tells PEOPLE. “One of the first people I met, he was looking for his aunt and I jumped out and gave him a flashlight and we searched through his entire house. A neighbor thought she’d gotten away safely, and I gave him my flashlight to keep looking.”
Added Josh: “That was just a small glimpse of what was happening everywhere. You can t prepare for something this bad.”
The Duggars, of TLC’s reality show 19 Kids and Counting, live approximately 75 miles from the disaster area, in Springdale, Ark. Late Sunday night, they heard what had happened and sprang into action, packing up a caravan of three cars with water, Gatorade, beef jerky and other dried food before hitting the road to help.
John, 21; Jana, 21; and Jill, 20 are all certified first responders and volunteer fire fighters, while Josh, 23, has worked as a volunteer fire fighter.
Their father Jim Bob, 45, along with younger siblings Jessa,18; Jinger, 17; Joseph, 16; and Josiah, 14, accompanied them and assisted in the rescue efforts arriving on the scene at 11 p.m. on Sunday and reporting immediately to the Joplin police department command center at the intersection of Connecticut and 20th streets.
Efforts by Everyone
The younger siblings handed out their supplies and went back home while those with rescue experience hit the streets.
“We worked five different streets, looking for survivors,” Josh says. “It was somber and serious because there weren’t many people we found.”
Josh says that most of the rescue crews are operating on little or no sleep.
“Trucks were pulling up with the injured in the back to get help at the mobile first aid unit,” he says. “People are overwhelmed, but they are seeing rescuers come from miles away and they need to see that. It gives them hope.
“For a lot of families it is going to be a tragedy they will live with forever,” he added. “We were just a small part of helping.”
The new season of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting returns June 7.