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Life One Month After an EF5 Tornado in Joplin, MO
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One Month Later
It may be a month after the tornado hit, but in the hearts and minds of everyone within 20 miles of Joplin, Missouri it is as fresh as yesterday. The main streets are clear. The death toll climb has slowed to a crawl, finally, but the wounds are still very open. Sitting in a restaurant you will hear conversations at every table revolving around the tornado in one form or another. It will be either where they were when it happened, how they survived, what they lost or how they are trying to deal with the aftermath.
I live 8 miles west of the touchdown point, in Kansas. I am blessed to have my home, car and job intact. It still has hit us. My friend's homes, my co-worker's families, my optometrist and hair salon are all gone. The ball park, grocery store and the realtor are wiped off the map. The dentist office that I use is an empty lot. It was closed, but it is gone. No one really cares. They were closed, so no one was hurt. That is what matters now. When you see someone you haven't seen in a while, you hug, you cry, you say, "I was so worried about you!" then you go on. Only one funeral in my life from this monster. I am blessed.
For us it began with my daughter's call, "Mom, what's going on - the sky is green and it's beginning to hail?" "Sis, if the sky is green, get the kids in the tub. NOW! I will check the weather and call you back...go!" We turned on the t.v. and learned there was a sighting of rotation over Columbus, Kansas near where she lived. We prayed for protection. I called her back and she said they "were in the tub, but the storm seemed like it was over." I called my youngest son and asked him where he was. "I'm at the mall," he said. I told him the potential tornado looked to be going toward Joplin and the mall on the north side would be a direct line with the storm that just passed over his sister's home. "Get out of there and OFF that motorcycle!" He headed south on Rangeline and heard the sirens go off. My son was on a motorcycle passing St. John's hospital just minutes before the EF5 tornado hit it. He called me and was getting into his car and heading home when the sirens were sounding for the second time. I told him that the weatherman was reporting" a tornado on the ground in Joplin - take shelter." He said he would keep an eye out. He then drove down Schifferdecker Road in pitch dark. It was early evening during the summer. It doesn't get dark until after 8 p.m. around here. He knew there was trouble, but drove as hard and fast as he could, focused on the point of light he saw ahead of him. I was at my parents' home pacing, watching from the back deck as the clouds boiling overhead darkened and dropped ever closer to the ground. The television blaring from the living room warned to take cover in Joplin. It had skipped over us. The weatherman gave specific streets and areas in the path....I watched the radar crawl across the t.v. frantically calling my son. I knew where he was. He was in the path of this monster. He did not answer his phone. My daughter called to see if we were ok. I told her where her little brother was, that he was not answering the phone. She said she would try. In spite of my faith and trust, I was literally gripped with fear. I paced and prayed and called him again. No answer. My phone rang and my daughter said, "He's fine. He's at the truck stop. He has been trying to call you. It won't go through, but he's fine." I broke down and cried. He sent me a text, "I'm fine. Lovey." A few minutes later he called and said, "it's bad, mom. Really bad. I'm going back to help. Can you check on my motorcycle?" He kept it at a storage unit less than one block from the track of the tornado. In comparing times, we learned that he passed the hospital only mere minutes before the tornado and had to have been traveling under the tornado along Schifferdecker Road as it began its monsterous path of destruction. An EF5 tornado. Joplin looks as if a giant monster chewed its way across the middle of town. Homes and businesses were literally chewed up and spit out. Ground to the ground. It is staggering, humbling to stand in the midst of this desolation. We are blessed and ever so thankful for God's great hand of protection. We should have lost thousands of lives.
Many others did not have such blessing. The Joplin Globe reports statistics that are staggering. "'Preliminary damage estimate: $3 billion; cubic yards of debris removed, 597,500; cars destroyed, 18,000; number of homes destroyed, 6,954; number of jobs affected, 5,000; injuries, 1,150; number of homes damaged, 875; number of businesses affected, 500; deaths, 156." It is like driving through a garbage dump going across town. That is an improvement. It initially felt like driving through a cemetary, an open graveyard. I prefer the dump. The streets are filled with dump trucks, cranes, construction company vehicles, insurance company cars and even Salvation Army vehicles. It is "normal" now to see these vehicles. Our normal is different than it was just one month ago. It is normal to see school buses in June with adults on board traveling into the disaster zone. It is normal to see debris on the side of the road, tarps on the roof, cars with tape instead of windows and complete strangers patting someone on the back or offering a hug. It's normal to see a police officer or firefighter from another faraway town cruising by, guarding the corner or sitting in a restaurant.
I am so proud of our area. People from all over rushed to help, getting there in cars, trucks, four wheelers, or running. They were there with their sleeves rolled up at daybreak and still there at dusk. Yes, there were looters. People from as far as Kansas City looking for a way to steal and benefit from the mass disaster. They are scum. They were scum before the storm and will still be scum after. They don't count. What does count is the hundreds of those who show up every day, still, to help get things back to the normal from before. We can see grass now. There are homes tarped, wood cut, parking lots cleared and flags posted all over town. We have come from homes where we only had what we earned. We gave what we could and helped when we could. This is no different. We have rolled up our sleeves, put on our gloves and boots and got to work. Sure it is hot, cold, wet, dirty....whatever.....it is work that needs to be done. Let's get to it and get it done. We have help and many hands make light work. There are even volunteers online posting help tips and needs for supplies. Some of them are from other states, far away. Bless them all for their help! There are ways to donate through Convoy of Hope, Red Cross and the Salvation Army. There are benefit concerts and there are children from across America having fundraisers to help the children and schools here in Joplin. People helpingJoplin people of all ages and all walks of life. We are the heartland and it shows.
There will be a day that the volunteers will only come from our little four state area, but until then, we are grateful and appreciative for those who have come. It has been a month!!! We were able to make it!! One day, one month, one year at a time. We will come back to normal! We will be bigger and better than we were before....just watch and see!