Before I begin this post, I would like to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to those in Moore, OK. If anyone reading this post is interested in helping the victims of this tornado, consider texting Redcross to 90999 to donate $10.
For those of you who live in the Midwest, the city of Joplin is a city that you have likely heard of due to the devastating tornado that took place 2 years ago to this day. My post today is going to be about my experience with that tornado 2 years ago, as Springfield, the city I currently live in, is merely 75 miles away.
Growing up in the Midwest I developed the bad habit of not taking tornado warnings seriously. My thought process with tornado warnings was that it was just another sign that spring had sprung in Missouri, as I’d expect dozens of warnings to be announced every spring but had never experienced the actual devastation a tornado can produce. This is the exact reaction I had on May 22, 2011 when a friend called me to ask if I wanted to come to her house as the storm system was beginning to head in our direction. Like always, I said that I would be fine at my place, but I appreciated her concern.
It was about 45 minutes later when my family called me asking if I was safe. I assured them that I was fine, as this was another typical spring storm in Missouri. That’s when my mom asked if I had heard about the tornado in Joplin, which I had not. I immediately turned on my TV and heard about the absolute horror that had happened just down the highway.
The news was reporting that the city of Joplin had been hit hard by a tornado. The total number of deaths and people injured weren’t know yet, but you could tell by the look on the reporters faces and the terror in their voice that it was going to be a number that no one wanted to hear. The final count was 162 people dead with another 1,100 people injured. 162 people. You know, even after 2 years that number still gives me chills. That number still brings tears to my eyes.
A few days before the tornado struck Joplin, my then girlfriend and I decided that it was time for us to go our separate ways. The timing of our relationship wasn’t right for either of us. She wanted to be a little bit closer to her family and had recently taken a new job in Joplin. I can still remember the sleepless night I had when I was unable to reach her on her phone. Without question I can say that this was the closest that I have ever come to having a panic attack. It was a completely helpless feeling. All of the news stations were broadcasting messages asking for individuals to stay away from Joplin in order for rescue teams and emergency personal to have a clearer path to their destination.
I lay in bed that entire night without a second of sleep. I was a zombie through the next day at work. It was on my lunch break that I received a call from her. The moment I answered and heard her voice I was overcome by relief. She told me that she was safe and staying with her parent’s house in a small town about 20 miles outside of Joplin. For the first time since the news broke, I was not consumed by wondering about her safety. I knew I was one of the lucky ones. My loved one was safe. She had a place to stay with food, water, and power. 162 other families would have done anything to be in the same position I was in.
One of the memories that stays with me to this day was my time as a volunteer. As I prepared to make the drive to Joplin to help clear debris I knew that I should expect to see damage that was beyond comprehension. Even holding this thought didn’t prepare me for what I encountered. I meet up with a group of other volunteers on the outskirts of town and we all sat around in silence as we completed liability paperwork. After everyone finished their paperwork, we were given a short lecture on the dangers of entering the city followed by a detailed lecture of what we were there to do and how to do it. We were then asked to board a school bus, which would take us to our destination for the day.
When we arrived, I exited the bus in complete shock. What stood before me was miles of flat land littered with the remains of neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals. It was the most eerie feeling that I can ever remember having. Knowing that one morning there were thousands of people living and working where I was standing, but by that night everything was gone. That day is one of the most physically exhausting days I’ve ever worked in my life. I know that I worked that hard to keep my emotions at bay. When our group of volunteers reached the max hour limit that we could work for the day, we were taken back to our cars and went our separate ways. That’s when the physical exhaustion turned to emotional exhaustion. I broke down. I cried like I hadn’t for years. Hearing and reading about disasters can’t prepare you for the reality of the situation.
I had the chance to go to the year anniversary last year and see the progress that Joplin has made in their recovery and rebuilding. I was astonished by how resilient this city is. They have made many steps in the right direction, and I have no reason to believe that Joplin won’t get back to where they once were. I’m sure that every year that May 22 comes around I’ll be reminded of the tragedy that took place in 2011. However, I’ll also be reminded of the love and blessings that others poured out to complete strangers. Today is a reminder for me to not take anything for granted, as we aren’t guaranteed anything. Let your loved ones know you love them today, I know I will.
Unfortunately, I’m approaching my word limit for this entry, and I know that my experiences can’t be summed up in 1,200 words and neither can all of the loss from this day. I’d like to leave everyone with one of my favorite quotes that I remind myself of in times of distress:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” -Mr. Rogers