Reflections-25 Things Learned from the Joplin Tornado

IMG_0248.jpgFive years ago this week–May 22, 2011 at 5:41PM to be exact–Joplin, Missouri, was just about wiped off the map by an EF-5 tornado. It was a tornado unlike any other on record. It cut a swath about a mile and a half wide through the entire middle section of our city, spanning East to West. Imagine that? A third of your town and 161 residents gone in a mere 32 minutes. 

In the months following the tornado, I kept an email journal that I sent to family and friends who didn’t live in the area. It was a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings in what seemed like a surreal moment in time. I thought I’d share this piece as a reflection of those dark days. It was written about three weeks after the tornado hit.


There are so many thoughts running through my head since the EF-5 tornado split our town right down the center. I thought maybe you might find some of them interesting.

  1. It’s not the least bit embarrassing to cry with someone you don’t know.
  2. When will the death toll stop going up? It is currently at 151 and all area hospitals are still full with tornado victims.
  3. Tragedy brings out the best in people. They travel from near and far to get tetanus shots and climb thru rubble. They pack boxes of snacks, water, sunscreen, bug sprays, work gloves, food, toiletries, household items, and shoes for people they will never meet. They send cash donations-my favorite was the $1.00 that was sent through the mail from an 8 year old Emily who wanted to help a school.
  4. Tragedy brings out the worst in people. Looters stepped over bodies and injured victims to clean out stores. Looters drove great distances to have a shot at robbing what was left of destroyed homes. Looters who drove to Joplin put their children in the free daycare provided by the YMCA for victims’ families while they did their “business.” They were all arrested and enjoyed the hospitality of the Joplin City Jail!!
  5. It doesn’t get any easier to look at the devastated areas.
  6. The tightness in my throat is now a familiar feeling.
  7. Who would have thought we would have a tent-like structure in a parking lot for a hospital? Or doctors’ offices in Memorial Hall? Or how about the dentist trying to set up his office again from his garage?
  8. I feel proud when our City Manager and School Superintendent shed tears at press conferences.
  9. Police Officers, Firefighters, the National Guard, and utility workers ROCK!
  10. As I drive through the disaster zone, I always feel like I have been punched in the gut.
  11. My daughter was part of the last class to graduate from the JHS building. Next year’s seniors will graduate from the ShopCo Campus at the back of the mall where the 11th and 12th graders will attend school while the new building is built. My son and the rest of the 9th and 10th graders will return to a former middle school. A 2-campus high school!
  12. It is getting hard to remember what stores were in which location on the major roads now. The debris piles kind of flow together.
  13. Just when I think I can’t cry again, something unexpected creeps up on me. This evening it was my 7 year old saying thank you to the Kansas City Police Officers we saw on the street. Yesterday, it was the video of my daughter’s high school choir singing at a fundraiser for Joplin at a theater in Springfield as images from the school before and after the tornado showed behind them. The sight of the walls being rebuilt at Wal-Green’s the day before got me! Can’t escape it, I guess!
  14. An American flag perched on top of a debris pile looks majestic!
  15. I didn’t know that a tornado could have a main vortex with several finger-like vortexes moving off of it as it travels 13.8 miles.
  16. A local family donated $500,000 to Joplin Public Schools to be used in any way the district chooses. All of their children attend private school.
  17. Did you know that pieces of wood could be slammed right through concrete curbs? Or that manhole covers could be sucked from the street? Or that a rubber hose could impale a tree?
  18. I get a lump in my throat everytime I hear about a benefit for Joplin. Half-Marathons are being planned across the country. Joplin was featured on the CMT Awards. People understand!
  19. People who were able to salvage some items from their homes are now starting to throw them away. The mold is growing at dangerous rates, which makes it difficult to clean. Adding insult to injury, most buildings were so damaged that slabs and basements cannot be used to rebuild. Everyone is having to completely start from scratch!
  20. Maybe someday we will be able to get a full night of sleep.
  21. Maybe someday we will really feel hungry again.
  22. My entire body feels tense when the slightest dark clouds appear in the sky.
  23. Do you think some of the criminals in the orange-striped jumpsuits cleaning up debris under the watch of guards were arrested for looting?
  24. The “Adult Entertainment” store that was part of the tornado’s path sent some interesting items around the disaster zone for workers to find!
  25. We cheer for the people who are cleaning debris, demolishing a building, or starting new construction as we drive by!

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