missing: 25% of Joplin, MO / found: a loving community

I purposefully chose a route from OKC to Louisville, Ky, in which I could stop in Joplin, MO. I felt drawn to the town since May of this year when it got hit by a night-time EF5. My hip was giving me trouble during this time and I could not volunteer. So I followed Joplin on the internet and then the news just kind of subsided. People now have this perception that if it’s not on the news or the internet, all is good in the hood. Or that if it wasn’t documented on the internet, that it didn’t happen at all. That’s why I am happy to be off the grid for a bit this autumn. I want to take some time to breathe.

Anyway, on Sept. 30th, I drove through Joplin. It was unintentional at first. I had decided to drive past Joplin because I had a terrible headache. I saw a sign for Walgreen’s and took the Joplin exit just to get some migraine medicine. There was no Walgreen’s. Here’s what I found. Despite my headache, I pushed through and took pictures anyway.

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(gallery at bottom of page)

I met a volunteer at the hospital. A man in scrubs was walking to his car with Colorado plates and said, “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” as I was taking the picture of the stop sign in front of the hospital. I had just imagined being a nurse or doctor in that hospital, then hearing what would be similar to a bomb going off, then losing electricity and not being able to save the people on ventilators. I had tears in my eyes as his comment caught me off guard. I looked at him and told him the truth, “There are no words.” Nothing will ever replace the emptiness that I felt as I looked at 360 degrees of destruction.

I also met Dr. Fort, a principle at Irving school, which looked like this:

First, she asked me if I was related to the McCoy’s. It’s strange because my stepfather is a McCoy (a real McCoy at that) but I told her no because the relation was probably way off. Then she said that she assumed that I was a McCoy because I parked by their house. I looked back and saw that I was parked next to a bare foundation. Dr. Fort told me that she had to drive by this destroyed school at least once a month. She then pointed out this clock, which had stopped at the time the tornado hit:

I didn’t have my zoom lens, so I had to crop this down to size. Also, a piece of insulation was blocking part of the clock. It was so eerie. But the people were the nicest of any town I have ever visited. I had the most pleasant experience in the local drug and convenient store. People were smiling at everyone else and spoke with a jolly tone. We all saw something that our eyes will never forget. Nor our hearts. Everyone seemed grateful.

The May 2011 tornado was the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 1947. A rare EF-5 storm, with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour, it churned for six miles through Joplin’s heart; killing 159 people, injuring 1,000 more, and destroying as much as a third of the city. In total, 2,000 buildings were destroyed, nearly 7,000 houses were destroyed (most of which were flattened or blown away) and over 850 others were damaged. The weather service also announced that the tornado appeared to be a rare “multivortex” twister. Multivortex tornadoes contain two or more small and intense subvortices that orbit the center of the larger tornado circulation. Multivortex tornadoes have been seen in massive storms. Six people were killed when the hospital was struck by the tornado. Five of those deaths were patients on ventilators who died after the building lost power and a backup generator did not work. The sixth fatality was a hospital visitor. Ten residents and a staff member of the Greenbriar nursing home were killed when the building was totally demolished by the storm. The home had 89 residents.

The Joplin Globe reported that 54 percent of the people died in their residences, 32 percent died in non-residential areas and 14 percent died in vehicles or outdoors. Joplin officials after the tornado announced plans to require hurricane ties or other fasteners between the houses and their foundation (devices add about $600 to the construction costs). Officials rejected a proposal to require concrete basements in new houses.

Let’s be thankful for what we have today. –BV– J.

  1. Jamie these are beautiful. I wanted to go to Joplin and help as well but was not able to make it. I’m glad you have time and the artistic ability to do something about this and help in your own little way. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    • Thanks so much Jazz! I really appreciate your support and you always have mine!

  2. Jessica Harris said:

    I am driving past Joplin next week and was considering taking a tour. It is so devastating. I am curious what it is like today since as you mentioned we never hear about it anymore. Great pics and info!

    • Jessica, I would recommend driving through the damage. It will put you in your place real quick. I am so glad that I got off the interstate for my headache!!! One of the most memorable experiences of my life and the people were so nice. =)

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