Joplin EF5 Tornado - My story
My husband and I were returning from Monett, Misouri to Joplin when we noticed a very unusual formation of clouds in the sky. It looked like egg cartons. Then on entering Joplin we heard a tornado siren go off. We watch the sky carefully as we made our way through town to our home. Our eighteen year old son met us at the door. "Did a tornado siren go off?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. I stuck my head out the back door and heard a constant roll of thunder, with no breaks in between. I called the cat several times, listening for the sound of her little bell bouncing towards the door, but there was nothing.
I closed the back door and heard on the TV, "A tornado has just touched down in Joplin." Then the current went off. The wind started to pick up and it was growing darker. I looked out the back door, which was glass, transfixed. The air itself looked grey, and it was blowing hard. "Get in here!" my husband called from the hallway where he and Mark and our little dog sat. I tore my eyes away joined them in the dark hallway, lying on the floor by them and feeling for their hands to hold. It was so dark, and things began to rattle and shake.
I heard Jeff praying aloud, "...please....please." I knew he was praying for all of our safety, and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and relaxed, knowing that God would take care of us. I waited calmly to see what would happen.
I felt wind blowing through the hallway, and knew that windows had broken. Then there was a loud pop the door to one of the bedrooms blew off, and the attic fan snapped open. A bit of light came down through it into the hall, but I didn't understand that this meant a hole in the roof. Papers were blowing everywhere, pictures were falling. One fell on me, and I was aware of a hand taking it off and tossing it aside. Jeff later said he had no recollection of doing that, and I realized he could not have, since I held one hand and Mark the other.
The furious blowing seemed to go on forever as I waited. I did not expect our house to collapse, or be seriously damaged. Everyone knows the really bad disasters only happen in other places. Finally the wind died down, papers settled in their places all over the house, and a dim light began to filter in.
We stood up slowly and looked around us. My first thought was, "Oh no. It is going to be so much work to clean up all this mess." There was glass, greenery and insulation all over the house and walls. The living room looked like a long abandoned ruin. There was a line down one wall that I didn't understand.
There was debris piled up across the front and back doors. The sun room was too full of glass and trash to get out that way. The garage doors were mangled and tree limbs and furniture were piled in the garage. Jeff and Mark started clearing a way out. I went to look out the back at my neighbors house. "Oh no," I though, "Georgia's roof is mostly gone, and her windows are broken. Poor soul." I never even saw the house right next to her that had lost the entire second story, and the ground floor was badly damaged.
Jeff and Mark went outside, and I heard a call from the open front door, "Is anybody here? Are you alright?"
"Yes," I answered, "We're fine. How about your house?" Travis and his mom were fine next door, but their roof was mostly gone, and other parts were collapsing. Somebody's baseball cards were spread all through their house.
I carefully stepped over the glass and debris in the front, realizing that I was still in my Sunday sandals and my feet were getting wet and cold. As I looked around I saw roofs damaged, windows broken. I saw the less severe damage because the full extent of what had happened just could not sink in. I was just beginning to understand that this was very bad.
Several people on our block came out into the road, and we all checked on each other and made sure all were safe. Jeff and I had both let our phones go dead, so we used Mark's phone to call our daughter in Texas. Several other people on the block also used his phone to contact people. Now I started to see trees down, power lines down, roads blocked, trees stripped bare. A large piece of commercial roofing was wedged against our house.
It was drizzling and the air was cool, and I was wearing a cotton summer dress. I began to feel chilly, and my joints began to ache. I walked a little past our block and saw more damage. A nurse was looking for people who needed help. Neighbors were checking on each other, then going to other blocks to see what needed to be done. Everyone looked a little dazed, but nobody look confused or lost. The job at hand was to do whatever needed to be done to find and help those who needed it.
"Mrs. Robertson!" I heard my name called from the open back of an SUV. It was a girl who attended the school where I work. She was sitting there with no shoes on, covered with a jacket. "Somebody was just passing by and gave me this jacket." Her house was destroyed, but they were all safe.
I walked further and suddenly, spread out in front of me was a scene that made my hand fly to cover my mouth. Block after block of piles of debris, with stripped naked and broken stumps of trees sticking eerily up. There was nothing green, nothing standing, nothing living. Slowly the cluttered roads filled with people. I started to hear that someone had died here, another there, six in our neighborhood. A car drove up to one pile, and some people got out, one with a phone to her ear calling, "Grandma! Grandma!"
"Are you sure she was home?" someone asked.
"Her car is here." We began digging. I became more aware of sandaled feet among the nails and glass, and my bare hands in the rough crumpled materials. It was not at all like I had imagined it in seeing pictures of other disasters.
"If she's at Judy's house I'll kill her," I heard someone say. There was no laughter, but several smiles. I had to leave without finding her because my joints were hurting, and I wasn't really much help. I prayed on the site before leaving.
The den was pretty much free of glass and debris, and dry, and we decided to spend the night there on our comfortable new couches. For the first two or three hours there was no break whatsoever in the sound of sirens. Later as they began to have occasional gaps of a few seconds or minutes, there began the sound of bulldozers roving the streets and clearing them for access by emergency vehicles. At around 10:00pm two police officers came by, checking that anyone inside was safe. Firefighters came at some point in the early hours doing the same. Each marked our house as being safe. Before dawn a truck came by asking if we needed water.
By morning the roads were cleared. Since all the street signs were gone and landmarks destroyed, they had spray painted the names of the streets at each intersection. Later that same day there were little signs stuck in the ground also. The response of the town was immediate, organized, and effective. As the extent of the disaster slowly began to sink into my brain, I was reassured that the city was in control of the situation, and God was in control of all.
Next article: Joplin EF5 Tornado - My Story Day One
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