Joplin - One Year Later

Monday, May 21, 2012
Since I live only forty miles from Joplin, Missouri it was pretty much destined I'd have to talk about this, sorry.  But tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that ripped a messy path of destruction through Joplin, killing 160 people.

Here's my story of that day (it's much less dramatic than stories from people who were actually IN Joplin).

I had just come home from my niece's high school graduation.  My husband  left to ride four-wheelers with one of my nephews. I was putting Lydia down for a nap when a few weather alerts dinged on my cell phone, telling me to keep an eye out for thunderstorm watches.

When I checked the radar map online for my area, the storm was only a little bitty dot of rain; nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.  Soon, tornado watches, then tornado warnings popped up for my county. Warning in our area usually only mean cloud rotation in the air,  still wasn't much to worry about.

But it could always become more. So I packed up the kiddo and went to my mom's house half a mile away because it's much more comfortable to camp out in her full, finished basement then hide in my tiny little bug-infested concrete storm shelter.

I stuck around Mom's house an hour or so. It rained a little there, not much. When the little bitty speck of a storm (on the may anyway) passed our area, I stayed and kept chatting with my mother until Doug Heady (that's our main TV news meteorologist guy) broke into regularly scheduled programing to report a tornado was actually ON the ground. Say what?

And it was just entering Joplin.

Since Doug--or rather his TV station--has SkyWatch cameras set up all over the viewing area, he flipped over to the Joplin camera to see if we could actually watch the tornado. The funnel was rain-wrapped, so I don't think anyone saw too much of it.  But what we could see through the rain-splotched camera lens was debris flying in the distance. There were also sparks of light, making me wonder if it was electrical lines exploding or lightning striking.

I tell you, it feels strange to watch something like that LIVE on TV, knowing houses are getting ripped apart, people probably getting hurt. The hair stands up on the back of your neck, er, all over your head really.

Then the SkyWatch camera screen went blank; we couldn't see ANYTHING anymore.  And that strange someone-just-walked-over-your-grave feelings just multiplied.  My stomach plummeted down into my knees.

The local news wasn't able to get into the city to report much of what had happened until about ten that evening, but some famous storm chaser dude followed it into town, and after we switched the station from the local news, we watched the destruction on the national news, and were utterly shocked.  The hospital where my mom had gotten her hip replacement and my father had gotten his 5-bypass heart surgery had been shifted four inches on its foundation and the top two floors had been torn off.

Before we went to bed that night, the news claimed the death count was 39. When we woke up in the morning, the count had moved up to 79. And every day, it just grew higher as more and more people were found or more died in surrounding hospitals.

We began to hear the personal stories almost immediately of:

--The Pizza Hut manager who tired to hold the freezer door shut by tethering it to his arm with a bungee cord. He--and the door--were sucked out into the storm. (He didn't survive)

--The St. Johns surgeon who was operating on someone while the building was being hit. He kept on operating, but he knew it had to be bad outside when his ears started to pop and one of the nurses had to hold the operation room door shut by bracing it with his back. (Everyone in that room survived)

--The father who was found holding his two children in his arms after the tornado hit Home Depot. (none of them survived)

--The St. Johns worker who helped evacuate patients from the sixth floor of the hospital and saw people flying down the hall. (he survived)

--The high school graduate who was driving home from his graduation and was sucked from the sunroof of his Hummer after his seat belt snapped. (didn't survive)

--The woman who was eight-months pregnant and couldn't open the doors of her '87 Jeep Cherokee to get out of the storm. She merely clutched her arms around her mother in the passenger's seat over the center console as they sat parked outside the Aldi's Grocery store. (She, her mom, and baby survived)

My favorite radio station airs out of Joplin, so every day for weeks following the tornado, I drove to work listening to more and more tales of heartbreak: people calling in to look for loved ones, people calling in, wondering how they could claim the bodies of loved ones. I don't know if I ever arrived to work dry-eyed back then.


A day has not passed since May 22nd, 2012 that Joplin recovery efforts have NOT been mentioned on my local evening news. But rebuilding has definitely started and flourished.
Joplin was featured on the last episode of Extreme Makeover : Home Edition.  They built seven houses in one week.

Tonight, the Joplin High School will have their high school graduation with President Obama giving the commencement address. I guess each graduate was given eight tickets to hand out to family members.  But, yeah, some of them are selling their tickets on Craigslist...only $75 dollars a piece!

To read more personal stories about heroes from May 22nd, you can visit Joplin Storm Heroes.

To see the memorial page, naming all the Joplin victims, you can visit Joplin Memorial (but beware, it's a tear-jerker, especially when you get to the picture of the sixteen-month-old baby).

And that's about all I have to say about that.  What's the closest any kind of big destruction has ever come to your home?


  1. This is heartbreaking. I hope the town is recovering. So horrible...I haven't been in anything major before. The bad hurricanes of 2004 but they didn't hit so hard where I live.

  2. Wow. Those pictures are just amazing. I imagine it must be so surreal for you and others (expecially your mother-in-law)
    The closest we had to any big destruction was when Hurricane Irene was threatening to pass over our barrier island. That was a scary scary time.

  3. A year later and its still just as heartbreaking as it was then.

  4. Such a tragedy. I remember that hair-raising feeling from 9-11. I've been through hurricanes before, but nothing like this.

  5. Still so horrible to see the pictures and think about all the devastation!

  6. Seems like there have been a lot of record-breaking disasters in recent years: Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, forest fires, tsunamis. Feels almost like the more we study them to figure them out, the meaner they lash back.

    Joplin has been amazing to watch in their rebuilding though. The entire country seemed to come together for this one disaster. Makes me proud of 'em!