This past week I had the pleasure of traveling from New Jersey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Arkansas. For the most part the trip was an excellent experience! I was able to visualize landscapes; which were a stark contrast to those I normally see in New Jersey, from Mountainous terrain to completely flat plains.
As I was nearing the Arkansas border, I realized that I was passing right by Joplin, Missouri where on May 22, 2011 an epic EF-5 Tornado descended upon the town. I have always had a fascination with extreme weather including Tornadoes. I had always known they were dangerous, but never in my life have I seen such devastation. It was late at night so I decided that I was going to go into Joplin on my return trip to witness just how terrible the damage in Joplin really was. As I made my way off the Joplin exit, I noticed several downed trees and damaged tree limbs.
I travelled deeper into the heart of Joplin, to find things that made my jaw drop wide open… I was speechless. I expected the town to be badly damaged, but had no concept of how terrible things really were! I was shaking, my head began to hurt and my heart ached. Even after I left Joplin, for about 2 hours I could not center myself… I felt completely taken over by what I had witnessed.
Houses were completely torn off of their foundations, countless piles of debris covered the sides of the roads, houses missing the roof or one or more sides of the entire house. I saw one house that had a sign on the door saying “We’ll be ok”….and then the tears began to fall. One spot where a house used to be only a foundation and the chimney remained. It was an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
The people of Joplin are resilient and are mending their damaged town, but that is going to take years! It was heartbreaking but also very touching to witness everyone working together for a common good.
I was shocked to see that the bare foundations where houses used to be had absolutely no basements. This, to me is unfathomable. I was told the people of Joplin at least 20 minutes of sirens and warnings that the Tornado was on the way. Sadly in many cases it seems those warnings were not heeded.
So, what can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again? Stronger building materials? Basements in every home? Storm shelters for apartment complexes? Extreme Weather safety rooms inside businesses and restaurants? Earlier warning systems including sirens, TV broadcasts and Radio broadcasts? And most importantly, people need to be aware of these warnings and do what they need to do to be safe, instead of ignoring them. Too many lives were lost, and I wonder how many were lost because they had not listened to the warnings? Perhaps they had thought they were false warnings? How can we get the message across to the people in the path of a tornado just how dangerous they are and that they need to be less complacent?
I am utterly stunned by this experience. My prayers and sympathies to the people of Joplin! Keep being strong and rebuilding! You are all so courageous and brave!
Please leave comments below if you have your own stories that you would like to share about the Joplin Tornado.