|A Joplin Neighborhood- photo from CBS News|
A year ago today, the town I live in was turned upside down by an EF-5 tornado. For someone that has not experienced a tornado it is difficult to understand exactly what extent of damage we are talking about. Just imagine you came home one day and your home was now a pile of wood, bricks, sheet rock and insulation. All of your belongings are underneath all of the mess (if you are lucky) or blown away never to be recovered again. You can’t find your dog or your cat. You are hoping your wife had not made it home from work yet, but you cannot reach her because you have no cell phone service. That was the situation for thousands of Joplin residents that day.
Overall, there were 7500 houses damaged or destroyed by the tornado. There were also 553 businesses impacted. The numbers vary, but around 25% of the town was destroyed. 161 lives were lost.
Roughly an hour after the storm had passed my mother and I went to Wal-mart and bought shovels, rakes, flashlights, gloves and bottles of water. Our immediate thought was to help them find as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The goal was to drive as close as possible to the damaged area and deliver the items to the people that needed it the most.
The things we saw that night will be remembered as long as we live. We would stop at various check points trying to off-load the items, but that person would send us in even further. By the time our journey ended, we were a block from St. John’s hospital. The entire area looked like a bomb had exploded. Cars crumpled into balls, houses in piles as far as you could see, people running around screaming the names of their loved ones or neighbors that they had not yet located.
When I got home that night, I sat and cried for hours.
A year has passed and we are healing as a community. Led by our strong city government with assistance from the state government, we are quickly clearing the debris out and re-building. As of May 1st, 446 of the 553 businesses destroyed have either re-opened already or are in the process of re-opening. That is an amazing amount of progress in just a year.
The real heroes here are all of the volunteers that have come to spend their time in Joplin. They tore down buildings, cleared lots, packed up things or helped at the emergency shelters. As of the end of April, Joplin had the help of 130,009 volunteers. What an incredible demonstration of the human spirit! We are so grateful for each and every person that gave money or time to help get us back up on our feet again.
There are many that ask why we live here in the middle of tornado alley…why not move to another state that doesn’t have tornadoes? The only answer I have is this is our home. Joplin is a great place to raise kids, has a low cost of living and the people here are exceptional. Before FEMA could move in to assist, we took care of our own as best we could. There was no complaining, “Why us?” The attitude was, “What can I help you with, neighbor?” I don’t think you would find that in very many towns across this nation.
We will never forget May 22nd, 2011 and the lives that were lost, but we are ready to move forward and make Joplin even stronger and better than before.
“Remember, rebuild, rejoice”