It can be difficult to remember what our city looked like 5 years ago today. On May 22, 2011 at 5:41PM an EF-5 tornado slammed through Joplin, Missouri, and left unimaginable destruction in its path. In those early days following the storm, I could never stop crying. I wondered how the debris would ever be cleared from the streets. I read and re-read the names of missing and deceased, hoping that I didn’t know another person on that list. I tried to wrap my brain around everything that my eyes were seeing and my heart was feeling. It was too much.
I went on the “automatic pilot” that you often hear about. It was easier to process things in smaller chunks. There was an overall numbness of feeling, both physical and emotional. My focus turned to comforting my family and helping those around me. It was about moving forward, one day at a time. It was about finding a new sense of normal.
It’s been five years since that night. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been five years. In other ways, it seems like it was just yesterday. I can still conjure up those images in my head that I wanted to forget. I can still smell those smells–the natural gas, the fresh rain, the unearthed mud, the rotting debris piles.
In those five years of living in the aftermath of a natural disaster, there are five things that I now know for sure:
- People are awesome. It’s true! Difficult situations bring out the best in people. The amount of folks who wanted to help our city was mind-boggling! People from all over the world volunteered for everything: clean-up, donations, fundraising, re-building, counseling, medical care, child care, going door to door at every home in town, adopting pets, organizing benefits in their own towns. Most of these people had never been to Joplin! They simply saw a need and wanted to help.
- When you need it most, you find strength. It’s simple, but it happens. Just when you think you can’t handle a situation, someone or something comes along with exactly what you need to push forward. Faith. Hope. Positive attitude. Call it what you want. You will find a way to dig deeper than you knew was possible.
- Things are not important. I’m not the kind of person who puts a lot of value on things. Maybe it’s easy for me to say. I didn’t lose my home and belongings in the tornado. I was one of the lucky ones. However, I have been completely amazed and impressed with those people who lost every material thing they owned in the storm. They found ways to live life and thrive without their possessions. Their courage inspires me every day.
- Share your story. Everyone in Joplin has a story from the tornado. Some are much more tragic than others, but we all lost something that day. Maybe it was a family member or friend. For thousands, it was a home.
It could have been a job or your school or your church. Maybe it was simply that sense of security. Our stories shed light on dark places. They show us that, while we are all vulnerable, we can also be strong. They bring hope. It’s hope that has carried us this far.
- God was there during the storm. You might wonder how I could believe that-with the huge loss of life and property. It’s true, the losses were inconceivable. The lives were irreplaceable. But, God was with us. People survived in bathrooms or hallways that were the only parts left of shredded buildings. People lived with injuries that should have killed them. Kids from all parts of the disaster zone talked about “butterfly people” or “people with wings” who helped them during the storm. Adults told of being guided to safety by the hands of Jesus and the angels. Listen to their stories. Yes, this was a disaster like no other and the losses were tremendous. We were not alone during that storm, and all the days that have followed.