Joplin Tornado - My Story Week One

My neighbor's house
My neighbor's house

The thing about a major disaster is that you never think one will happen to you. So, when it does it takes a while for it to sink in.

I had left Joplin with my son to stay with friends the day after the tornado, a Monday. For several days I dealt with soreness, tiredness and a mental numbness. It was very difficult to get any news, or have any contact with people because of poor TV reception and a great overload on the cell phone system. People were a great help in their compassion and understanding, but it felt really strange to be on the receiving end. All my life I have been on the giving end, taking care of people, serving, meeting needs, feeling competent in doing that. I felt the need to do something.

On Wednesday night the three of us went to College Heights Christian Church, a major distribution and volunteer coordination center, to volunteer for a couple of hours. I got straight to work sorting clothes, and it felt good to be doing something useful. One of the ministers saw us and came over to talk, asking about what had happened to us and how we were. The question arose in my mind: "Are we victims?" Funny that it had never occurred to me before, because we were safe, and our house was still standing. I had never been a victim before.

On Thursday my cousin and her husband arrived from Minnesota to help with sorting, packing, and inventory for insurance. We decided to drive over to the house to show them "ground zero" before starting into work the next day. I had not been back since leaving on Monday.

On the drive we began to see tree damage, things scattered around. "Way out here?" I thought. I had no concept of how huge the damaged area was. We got closer, and things got worse. A shadow crept over my heart. Before I was ready for it I saw our neighborhood grocery store in a pile of rubble. Everything was leveled for block after block, mile after mile. It finally began to sink in what had really happened here.

The view from our house.
The view from our house.

On Friday we went in the morning to start work. I saw people everywhere, picking up things, walking around, giving out water and food, asking if anybody needed help. At our house a group from a far away church came to help us. The men started on the yard and the women, bless their souls, started going through things in the house and packing up what could be saved. I tried to help, but couldn't make myself focus. "Do you want to save this?" they would ask. "Whatever you do is fine with me. I'm just so grateful that you're here to help." They brought huge plastic tubs and packed things away.

Water was coming down through the ceiling in most of the house, the light fixture in the hall was full of the murky yellow liquid. My clothes in the closet were all damp and would need to be washed. All the linens would need to be washed. The curtains were beyond hope.

Every hour or two a vehicle of some kind would pass by asking if we needed water or food, gloves, first aid supplies.

On Saturday there were so many people and vehicles that it was hard to find a place to park. It was Memorial Day weekend, and thousands of people gave up their holiday to come and work. Stations had sprung up all over town giving out supplies and cooking hot food. One station had an air conditioned trailer offering free counseling. Churches banded together to set up comprehensive help stations. Christians flooded the streets. All were cheerfully working and sweating. I saw a few Red Cross stations, and many insurance trailers set up to facilitate the process of making claims, but looking around, 90% of the load was taken up by Christians. I felt proud that the family of God was doing so much, so well, and prayed that God would use this event to show Himself to the world.

On Sunday we drove to our little church in Monett, 40 miles away. It was good to see everybody there, and they all expressed concern and asked if we needed anything. "Hmm, I guess I am a victim," I thought. We used the Sunday School hour to discuss the storm and how we were all affected, sharing thoughts and needs and confirming our faith in God to work everything out for good. Jeff preached a wonderfully encouraging message, amazing under the circumstances that he was even able to prepare something. Then we went to the airport to pick up another cousin who had come to help. Thank God for family that are not only able but willing to help in whatever way they can. Another cousin, who lives in Europe, helped by giving her credit card to pay for whatever expenses would come up: eating out, storage containers, even a new laptop computer on which I am writing this.

The whole first week I was cheerful, taking things in stride as they came, happy to not have lost everything, happy that the three of us, and our dog, were together. I felt the effects of stress, but said to everyone who asked, "We're fine. God is good." Because of my absolute faith in God I didn't expect that feeling to change.

Next aritcle: Joplin Tornado - My Story Month 1

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