The Joplin tornado hit in Southwest Missouri on May 22, 2011. I can still remember it like yesterday. We were living 20 minutes drive from Joplin. Everyone was in shock at the devastation. The walls of the Home Depot collapsed inward. The Walmart was just a torn up mess of debris and dangerous wires everywhere. A huge swath of the Rangeline shopping district had been ripped apart. The St. John’s Hospital was completely destroyed. Cars were crushed and tossed here and there. People were stuck in their basements trying to get out. Homes were wiped out. Bodies were here and there. It was bad. Unlike anything I’d ever seen since 9-11.
My friend Jordan and her husband Dr. Fox headed down there immediately to help triage patients. My husband Dennis drove as fast as he could to Joplin to help Kelly, his brother-in-law. Their house was obliterated, all but the bath tub pretty much. They survived. Alot of people did not.
There were stories told. Awful stories like a mother that heard about the tornado too late and went to get her daughter who was playing outside only to find the girl had been swept away by the winds. Then there was the story of the boy that was sucked through the sunroof of his car while his Dad tried desperately to cling to him to no avail.
Yes, I have lived in tornado alley most all my life. We sorta scoff at them naders as we call em. Ain’t scared a no nader. But the truth is we all remember Joplin. It will be something we will never forget. Some of us still can’t even communicate our feelings fully about that day.
Tornado season is approaching. This weekend, we’ll clean up the basement a little and put pallets down in case of too much rain. We’ll put the usual chairs and table in the storm shelter and leave the back door open for any neighbors that need to seek shelter underground quickly with us. The storms have grown more frequent and harsher than I remember as a kid. Perhaps it has to do with climate change.
I, myself, have only encountered a severe wind storm tottering near level 1 tornado. But it was enough to scare the heck outta me. There was no time. It came up very fast. The lights went out. I ran from my bedroom to my children’s room. Things were hitting the house. Lots of things. Very loud. I pulled my sleeping children off their beds. I put them underneath me in a pile. We were all suddenly scared. I remember the sound of the wind in the dark as I looked up at the popcorn ceiling. There was no time to pray or for sirens. There was just a tremendous sucking noise as if something was gonna lift the roof clean off. My only thought was, “This roof is gonna come off us.”
It lasted maybe thirty seconds. I heard the timbers busting in the roof. I heard stuff hitting the house. Big stuff now.
And then it was gone. Just like that. We sat in the dark huddled together and in the distance a lone tornado siren began to sound a few minutes later. It was eerie.
The power came back up the next day. My Dad came to our house about 2 am with a lantern. He said, “Don’t go outside until the morning. You’ll step on something.” I don’t know how he managed to get through all the debris to us. The first thing he asked is if we were okay. I nodded. The kids had gone back to sleep.
The next day I saw the neighborhood. Whole trees were uprooted and tossed into homes or sheds. Trampolines were all bent and twisted up and thrown around. Alot of roofs were busted up, including ours. We had several broken timbers in the roof and there was a dent in the ceiling above my bed. The mall was a mess. Signs were thrown everywhere or toppled over. Even stuff was busted up in the cemetery. I had never experienced a night like that before and I hope to not again in the future. They say when you might die, your memories flash through your mind but all I could think in that moment was “dang, this roof is about to come off.” Anyway, we moved from that place. Found a place with a basement shelter and we love living here. If we can just only get through that dang tornado season….
I have one more tornado story to share. A few years later, we were heading to Colorado in an old RV bumper pull. We had two flat tires back to back. It was getting dark in the sky and the winds were picking up. We were on our way to Dodge City. We had to limp the RV slowly into a little town called Kinsley, a place I’d never heard of. There were tumbleweeds blowing strongly across the road as we made our way there. We stayed in the only spot we could, a little park on the outskirts of town where the Farmers’ market would be held the following day. That night the winds really picked up strong and rocked the RV back and forth. We eventually fell asleep.
The next morning we opened the door of the RV and the people from the Farmers’ Market were set up with tents and wares all around. They helped us get the tires repaired and gave us breakfast. They were very kind to us, especially my children. They told us we were lucky to find Kinsley. Some semi trucks further on down the road to Dodge City had been picked up and thrown off to the sides of the highway overturned. We asked why Kinsley was important. They said it was an old Indian settlement surrounded on three sides by a ridge. It was near Greensburg. They said tornadoes hit all around Kinsley but never hit the town. It was protected. It was a special place. I guess those flat tires were a good thing after all.
Here’s some old footage of the Joplin tornado. It will be 10 years this May 22nd.