I make a lot of nature posts. But as I said, nature isn’t always flowers and clear skies…
May 22, 2011. We were enjoying an event at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The weather was hot, humid, windy, ominous. As we headed out for dinner before attending a movie, texts and phone calls began coming in. Slowly we got the news that Joplin and Duquesne were hit by a tornado. I used to live there. I went to college there. Family and friends lived there and throughout southwest Missouri. Where exactly had it hit? How big was it? As we began to realize the magnitude of the tornado (later categorized as an EF-5), we frantically called to make sure everyone was OK. Communication to SW Missouri was difficult without cell phone coverage and jammed lines. The Internet and Facebook later became venues for finding out about people, donations, volunteering, immediate needs (Joplin Tornado Info was awesome). But by the grace of God, the folks in my circle of family/friends were OK. I thought about a lot of what-ifs and heard about many close calls. Dad was driving to Oklahoma from St Louis (the tornado crossed the highway at one point) but he stopped for dinner and missed the storm by maybe 30 minutes. Mother-in-law, a nurse at St. John’s hospital, wasn’t working that day and was able to come in and work triage. Brother-in-law had walked down Main Street and hid out in the cooler at Walgreen’s…luckily only minor damage to that building. My former co-workers at Academy hunkered down in the back hallway and made it OK. My old neighbors survived under a pile of debris in the bathtub. My friend and her parents were all OK, despite being in a SUV when it hit. Another college classmate miraculously made it through in his pickup.
I did not grasp the extent of the devastation until I arrived later that week. Neighborhoods I knew well were unrecognizable. Spray paint marked addresses, search/survivor statistics, and insurance companies. The second floor (and parts of the first floor) of apartment complexes were wiped away. We came across a dented bowling ball, plastic chairs jammed into walls, trees stripped of their bark, vehicles flung several blocks. St. John’s hospital was shaken from its original foundation. Small smoke clouds still lingered throughout the city. I could hear chainsaws, ambulance sirens, sheet metal creaking in the wind.
We even came across a vehicle that STAYED in its garage as everything around it shattered. The family in this home miraculously survived. The high school is in the background.
This was a tragedy. A volunteer and veteran equated the area to a war zone, knowing full well what that looks like. So many lives lost. So many injured. So many lives changed. To make things worse, looting put residents on edge. On the flipside, volunteers came from around Joplin, neighboring towns, the four-state area, and from all over the world. It was amazing! Love thy neighbor! I only had the chance to help out a few days. Some of us went into the tornado zone to help people dig for belongings and sort rubble. I also helped sort donations (utilizing my old retail skills) and helped a friend clean out her house, which was damaged but salvageable.
This is a group of family, friends, and strangers standing in what I believe was the living room of a home. We were able to find some valuables for the owners.
A year later, the debris is mostly cleared. Joplin is rebuilding. Many homes and businesses have returned. The sound of construction supplants the sound of chainsaws and ambulances. The Joplin HS class of 2012 graduated on Monday. A year later, the community hold a Day of Unity in remembrance of the 161 lost, the healing survivors, and the gracious volunteers.
My brother-in-law sits among his fellow classmates as President Obama praised their and Joplin’s strength and courage.
As Joplin rebuilds and heals, I hope that it will strive to promote sustainability as Greensburg, KS did after an EF-5 tornado ravaged it in 2007. Stronger, cleaner, healthier buildings will improve lives and provide better shelter if another storm knocks at Joplin’s door. Replacing the trees and flowers is also important to help provide greenery, shade, wind moderation, temperature moderation, and symbols of new growth. It’s time to invest in the future, a safe and sustainable future.