Most people in the United States have probably heard of the tornado that devastated the southwestern Missouri town of Joplin. The EF-5 (largest measurable), mile wide tornado ripped through the heart of the city leaving unprecedented damage and killing 135+. Living in the midwest (and growing up in SE Kansas), tornadoes are a part of our lives, but this kind of damage is on a scale few of us can relate to. The gut-wrenching stories I've heard over the past 8 months would make Superman, or even Lex Luther, come to tears. I've heard of a man in Home Depot found holding his two girls' hands in rubble about 20 feet from the doors and safety. I've heard of a man desperately holding the leg of his son as the child was sucked through the sunroof of his car...never to be found again. The terror people suffered in that 5 minutes is unbearable to think of. Below, are some pictures I took while driving back to St. Louis from holiday travels. At the end, however, will be a positive note and recommendation to all that read this.
This is 6+ months later. I can't imagine what it looked like in May. This is almost "cleaned up."
You can see the rebuilding has begun. However, the landscape is forever marred. Large trees and a subdivision full of homes used to sit here. Most of these homes don't have basements because Joplin is an old mining town largely built on top of a network of tunnels. How "Tornado Alley" homes don't have basements is still beyond me....but a lot of them are just built on concrete slabs waiting for a tornado to sweep them, and their owners, away.
A south-facing image of St. John's hospital, one of the hardest hit buildings in the city. A very close friend of mine lives in Joplin. His wife works Labor & Delivery at one of the bigger hospitals in town. I couldn't remember which one. On the day of the tornado, I frantically tried to get in touch with my friend to see if both he and his wife and children were ok. After the images of this hospital hit local television airwaves, I remember my panic when I couldn't get through all the jammed phone lines...wondering if his wife was home or working a shift. A day later, he emailed me to tell me he and his family were fine. His wife works in the other hospital, which was untouched. Their home was never in danger. However, his little brother lost everything. His home and car were completely destroyed that day, but at least his brother lived through the disaster.
The months following the tornado have seen an amazing community pull together. There is a sense of pride and patriotism ringing through the town as people are getting back to work and as the rebuilding continues. However, the landscape will not follow suit as quickly. In the distance you see homes that received glancing blows from the twister. Standing in the center of the tornado's bullseye, it was very easy to see the scale of the damage....how wide the path of destruction was. Those homes are over a quarter mile away and I am standing closer to them than the homes behind me.
Driving through the destruction zone brought me to this fireplace. The only thing remaining from a home directly hit. Another friend told me a story of her mother living in Joplin. Tornadoes often take relatively straight paths, but bounce and skip up and down along that path. If the tornado had taken a straight path this time, it would have destroyed her mother's house and likely killed her mom. Instead, the tornado wobbled a bit to the north, right around the house. I later found out the best friend of her mother was in the wobbled path and didn't survive. They lived a couple of blocks from each other.
This home was lucky enough to have a crawl space (sort of a basement). In the crawl space, I found a couple of leftover toys and some technological gadgets like a mouse and flash drive. Tornadoes are funny things; they can move cars and take your house but leave a computer mouse and your fireplace. Actually, there is no way to know if the toys or mouse even belonged to this home. They could have been carried in from miles away. If you look behind the left side of the fireplace, you can see just how far away the unaffected homes are....easily over half a mile away. Everything from those houses to the houses in the distance of the picture with the American flag was completely swept away. Only a random chimney here or swingset there remained. I also found sheet metal still stuck over 20 feet off the ground tangled in a treetop. Imagine the winds it takes to get metal the size of a car's hood 20+ feet off the ground and wrapped around the top of a tree?
Now to something more positive. If you watch television, you have likely heard of or seen the show Extreme Home Makeover. The cast and crew had recently been in Joplin, where they rebuilt SEVEN houses for the community. Each home is completely different, which is amazing these days. And, they were all built from scratch in five days. Hundreds of people....scratch that.....thousands of people showed up to volunteer for the project, and hundreds were turned away because it was logistically impossible to organize a group that large. I didn't know of the show, or the homes' locations at the time I drove through town, but I've seen a video of the new neighborhood. This episode will be a "must watch" for anyone interested by this blog post and is set to air on January 20th. But even after that, you won't be able to grasp the scope of this catastrophe unless you drive to Joplin and stand in the center of it all for yourself. It will truly blow your mind away...no pun intended.
If you made it this far, thank you. And, please do me the favor of sharing this with people you know that may be interested in reading it. The more we get the word out, the faster Joplin starts it's new life. The people there deserve any help we can provide.