Hell's Half Hour - a Stylized Short Story of the Joplin Missouri EF-5 Tornado
St. Mary's Cross
U2 Where The Streets Have No Name - Joplin Tornado
My story which was published in 5:41 Stories from the Joplin Tornado
Hell’s Half Hour
On the morning of Sunday, May 22, 2011, Satan rose to take stock in what he claimed as “his” portion of the world. In every town, every state, every country in the world, some part of it is claimed by him. A person, an act, anything contrary to Christ’s teachings falls into Satan’s house. On this day, several conditions were brewing which would lead to a disaster of rare proportions. As he looked out into the world, he settled his sights settled on the community of Joplin, Missouri. At about 50,000 persons living within the city’s limits, Joplin is not a particularly large or spectacular town. While Joplin lies within the “Bible Belt” portion of the United States, there are any number of persons residing there who renounce Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and more which don’t lay claim to either side. Satan saw in this city an opportunity to cause massive heartache and mayhem on this day, and in doing so, perhaps claim even more of its’ citizenry as his own. As the day progressed, he quietly guided some atmospheric conditions to the point where they would collide directly over Joplin. Stirring the clouds with the tip of his forked tail, he cackled with glee as he watched the cold front from the North collide with warm, moist air from the South. Then, just as they were at their most potent, he re-directed the jet stream to a point which would cause the storm to rise to its most deadly heights. He then sat back, and waited, smiling an evil grin in anticipation of the pain and suffering to come.
Just to the South and East of the small town of Galena, Kansas, a funnel cloud descends. To some watching, it appears almost poetic, perhaps even magical in its destructive majesty. That curious portion of humanity called Stormchasers, who have pursued the storm across the miles in anticipation of this very moment, report to the masses watching on the airwaves with anticipation and excitement as the funnel cloud kisses the earth to become an actual Tornado. With a gentleness belying its power, it brushes the ground, ripping limbs, leaves, and even the very bark from trees in a careless motion. Continuing to the East, the vortex comes in contact with a set of power lines and poles. A bright flash and lines begin to fall. Massive power poles built to withstand Mother Nature’s fury are snapped in half with no more effort than a child snaps a piece of straw. As it moves farther along the predestined path of destruction, the funnel cloud meets up with its first habitation. This lasts no more than a thought, and the tornado continues on its way. More houses and possessions are torn asunder, and the tornado rises slightly to regain some power. Like a person taking in a great breath, the storm gathers up its resources, and forges forward with renewed vigor. Satan begins to laugh, as he knows he has begun a terrible catastrophe from whence he alone can reap the benefits.
As the storm approaches Joplin proper, the funnel cloud descends fully onto the ground. To this point, it has been playing as a cat plays with its prey. Delicately slapping the mouse that is Joplin around, the town now gains its full attention. Approaching 32nd and Schifferdecker, it slams to the ground with a fury rarely seen in nature. Throwing cars, trucks, and houses aside with equal disregard, it continues to the East towards what has become Satan’s primary focus: the hospital named after one of Jesus’ own disciples, St. John’s. As it approaches this edifice built to reflect the desire to ease others pain and suffering in this world, it ravages the landscape before it, destroying anything and everything in its path. Gathering its strength, the tornado throws trees, telephone poles, and even thrusting a wooden chair into the concrete side of the building. Windows blow outward as though a massive bomb has gone off within its halls. Patients who should be finishing their evening meals are cast from their beds onto a floor strewn with the litter of the walls and windows of this hospital. Even before those within have gained their breath, the tornado takes sight of its next target: St Mary’s Catholic Church. Continuing to gather strength from Satan’s stirring of the atmosphere, the tornado grows ever larger, with winds approaching 300 mph, and a footprint of almost ½ mile wide. It slams into the church, using all of its massive power to try and bring down the iconic iron cross which stands before the church. Hit repeatedly by all manner of debris, the cross flexes and strains to remain upright. For what appears to be an eternity, the storm rages around this point. Finally, it moves onward, content that it has done Satan’s work to destroy this building dedicated to the glory of God the Father. However, as it leaves, continuing East Northeast, it sees that, although it had hit the cross with everything Satan could manifest, the cross stood firm in its resolve, and remains standing tall and proud above the wreckage. Furious, the tornado turns its attention on the school called Irving, and quickly reduces it to a pile of barely recognizable rubble.
The tornado now fulfills its’ promise, growing to almost a full mile wide, and full of a power to which mankind cannot hope to withstand. As it crosses 26th and Main Street, it sees in its’ path a group of neighborhoods. While it has demolished a few of these neighborhoods along its’ path thus far, it has not seen anything such as this to this point. Stretching for a full 3 miles West to East, and varying from ½ to a full mile wide North to South, nothing stands between this monster and these homes. Full of it’s’ failure to destroy the cross, the storm descends on the homes, bent on reducing them to nothing more than firewood. Carelessly throwing parts of what had been homes to the left and right, it tops a modest hill, and sees before it another monument to the people of Joplin: the High School. Redoubling its’ fury, it tears across the landscape bent on nothing less than utter annihilation. With a sound reminiscent of the most massive of trains, it flows into the modest valley which contains the school. Tearing through the middle of the building, it demolishes what had recently been hallways filled with students. Even today, not moments before the storm began, students and families were rejoicing in the seniors graduating from their school. In times past, this was held in the high school itself; but due to the large number of family members gathering together on this day, the ceremony was moved to the local University. No one was home at the time the tornado ripped through the building, and only broken brick and mortar, twisted steel and splintered wood is left behind.
Continuing on its’ path of destruction, the tornado ripped hundred year old trees from the ground as though they were no more substantial than a single stalk of grass; stripping the living bark from them even before casting them aside in search of new victims. Nothing stood a chance at this point; not trees, not buildings, whether steel, wood, or stone. The only salvation came to those who moved to the farthest reaches of their homes, on the East side of the houses. If they were able to withstand the initial attack of the EF5 tornado, the walls might hold up against the winds long enough to allow the destructor to move on. Not many would.
As the vortex moved eastward along 20th street, it spied a local grocery store, followed by several sets of apartments rising a modest 3 stories high. Looking through the storm, Satan guided the path straight into these buildings, flattening them as though they were made of straw blown apart by the wolf outside the door. Seemingly requiring no effort to accomplish this, it moved onward towards more neighborhoods, and Rangeline Road. This had, over the years, become a primary means of moving North and South in Joplin. Some say as many as 250,000 vehicles traveled it in a single day, many times the normal amount of cars and trucks within the city limit. Angling itself so as to cause the maximum damage, the tornado bore down on Walgreens pharmacy; Home Depot; Academy Sports; and Wal-Mart #59. Beneath its’ attention, yet within its’ grasp, sat more stores: Pizza Hut; Sonic; Jiffy Lube; Wendy’s; Payless Shoes; Pizza by Stout; The Big Nickel; Aldi’s, and the local Pepsi Distributing Plant. Swatting these to the left and right, it continued East. Standing in its’ way was a tiny building, Efird’s Auto. Redoubling its’ efforts yet again, it bore down on this location. The owner, Dave Efird, was known to offer assistance to those who required work on their autos, but may not have the funds readily available to have the work done. This was just the type of Godliness Satan despised, as it so often ran contrary to his plans. Descending on the small building, it tore it apart. Not even the cars within the building were spared. In its’ wake, a 40’ by 60’ slab of concrete were all that remained. Had the vortex been able to rip that from the ground, that too would have been gone.
Deep within itself, the tornado felt something wrong. A weakening, a lessening of the winds, perhaps. Satan could only hold together these monstrous powers for so long. Looking ever eastward, he saw one last target: East Middle School. Only 2 years old, and heralded as big enough to be a high school itself, the school had been built at a cost of almost $25 million to the city. Gathering what strength remained, the tornado took aim at the school. Forging into it, it gave almost all that remained in its’ ability. Ripping the roof off, and doing its’ best to level the school, it could only inflict modest damage. While the storm still had some time before it spent itself completely, the worst was past. A short distance on, the funnel cloud began to dissipate, torn apart at last by the very forces which spawned it.
All in all, the path of devastation covered just short of 14 miles on the ground. Another lesser tornado had attacked just South of I44, which bounded Joplin on the South side. Another small twister caused some trouble near the Northpark Mall, tossing some cars about in its’ effort to contribute to Satan’s cause. All totaled, the storm has damaged or destroyed 9 schools and the Joplin Schools Administrative Building; 2 Fire Stations; innumerable businesses and homes; numerous churches, and more lives than can be imagined. As the funnel cloud rose into the sky from whence it came, Satan eased back, rejoicing in the moment. Any second now, those below should begin decrying God. “Why did this happen to us? We don’t deserve this trouble! God, why did you send this to our community?”
Waiting for the cry to come, Satan took stock of his 15 minutes of fame in Joplin. Close to 8,000 buildings had been damaged or destroyed. Virtually everyone in the surrounding area affected, either through family ties, or homes and jobs lost. As he relished the moments following the storm, he cocked an ear to the area. He waited to hear the cries of the people remaining alive, and a sinister smile formed upon his cruel lips. Softly at first, he heard cries for help. As the sound mounted, he began to discern words. With a start, he refused to believe what he was hearing. Instead of the cries against God, he heard cries of people left behind helping others! “How could this be?” Satan thought. “I have just delivered to this town the single most destructive storm in the past 60 years! These people should be cursing God, not offering to help one another!”
But that is exactly what was happening. Instead of ripping the city apart, dividing it into sections separated by more than just streets, it was closing together more quickly than he could conceive. Everywhere, people were crawling from beneath what remained of their homes and businesses, to offer assistance to those unable to crawl from beneath themselves. Once above ground, those rescued became themselves the rescuers, helping even more citizens out of the remnants of Joplin. It didn’t matter what race, religion, or other seeming differentiation Satan had tried to create to keep those citizens apart, when they had the most reason to help only themselves, the people came together to help each other.
Howling and cursing, Satan could only watch helpless as assistance arrived within moments from outlying towns and cities. Webb City, Carl Junction, Galena had crews to the hardest hit portions of the city almost before the storm had moved off. As the evening wore on, more distant cities sent help. Within hours, the rubble was alive with activity, searchers digging into and pulling survivors from beneath the remnants of buildings and out of the mangled wreckage of cars. While Satan’s minions had their moments, such as those who looted buildings for earthly goods, and chose to step over injured to reach into jewelry counters rather than reach into the rubble for the jewels of life, for every one of those souls bound for eternal damnation, a thousand were bound for glory for assisting their fellow man.
As the days passed, stories came to light. Randy Kendrick, an Assistant Manager at Academy Sports, herded his customers and associates into the safest place in the store. He then went to the front of the store, and watched and waited. Guided by his handheld electronic device, he watched the tornado bearing down on the store. Literally seconds before the tornado hit, an associate came running to the door to gain entrance into the store as a place of safety. Randy pulled the person inside, and together they ran for the back of the store. As the tornado chased them through the store, they dove for safety with the others huddled together. As prayers went up to heaven, they clung together beneath the walls of what was Academy, but once had been Kmart’s. The builders who built those walls all those years ago knew what they were doing: they withstood the fury and protected their charges. Not one was seriously injured.
Across the parking lot from Academy, Pizza Hut manager Christopher Lucas moved his patrons and co-workers into the cooler. Trying to hold the door closed was impossible, but Christopher was up to the challenge. Wrapping a bungee cord around the door handle, then around his own arm, he braced himself against the storm. Straining with all his might, he held off the tornado for as long as he could. Finally, the door gave way, and he disappeared into the maw of the storm. While the storm took him, no other person within that cooler was lost to the storm.
The father of a local resident, John Serr, was in St. John’s of the 5th floor. At the moment of the tornado’s impact, several nurses converged in his room, covering the man’s body with their own, in order to protect him from the fury of the storm. While the tornado surged around the building, demolishing windows and walls, they selflessly covered and protected this man who was unable to do so for himself. With only minor injuries, all came through alive.
In perhaps the most courageous moment of all, Don Lansaw threw his wife Bethany into the tub, and covered her with his own body. The storm beat him about the back, but he refused to move. Perhaps God and Jesus knelt with him in that moment, murmuring words of comfort to him while tears of joy were streaming down their faces at the sacrifice this man was so willingly giving, so his loved one could survive.
Furious, Satan turned his back on Joplin. With impotent rage, he cursed whomever he could reach, in order to blind himself from the ultimate failure: himself. He simply could not understand the pure love man has for one another in times of need. Perhaps, someday, we will find a way to live Jesus’ example every day. Some do, and blessed are those who do. Some only realize what they can be in times of trouble. My hope is that this day opens their eyes to what they can become. We as Americans need to walk the path of righteousness every single day, lending assistance to all who are in need, whether requested or not. Offer because it is the right thing to do. The Golden Rule is so very simple. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” If we were to do this daily, oh what a wonderful world it would be. Just by doing it in Joplin, we have seen what a wonderful place it is.