One Year Later in Joplin, Missouri

Almost a year ago, on May 22, 2011 a tornado hit my hometown of Joplin, Missouri.  The year since the storm was filled with joy, sorrow, tragedy, and miracle – sprinkled with refreshing moments of ordinary.  Most of you have heard the story:

On May 22 David turned nine years old.  The day started as a day of celebration. At 5:30 that evening, David, two of his friends, and I were in a movie theater watching pirates duke it out for the fountain of youth.  After the movie, we planned to meet Keith and the girls for pizza.  As we watched, I received a text from one of the boy’s mom saying “Stay put, Amy, the storm is bad and the tornado sirens are going off.”  The movie stopped in the middle of a scene, the lights turned on, and we were all instructed to go sit on the floor underneath the screen.  I called Keith to tell him to stay home with the girls and wait out the storm.  At the time, Keith and the girls were getting shoes on to head out the door and meet us for dinner.  Meanwhile, the theater crowd was laughing, talking, and in good spirits.  This is Missouri; we’re used to sirens and tornado warnings.  We were all sitting on the floor sharing any weather tidbits we could get on our phones.  Someone asked a manager why the movie was still playing in the theater next door.  The manager replied, “That’s not a movie.  That’s the storm.  Maybe a tornado …”

The mood changed.

I couldn’t reach Keith and the girls on the phone.  When the storm finally ended, people started to walk up the stairs to leave the theater as texts and calls began to come in.  It was terrifying to see people check their phones and start running, or crying, or saying “Oh my God …” The first text I received was from David’s friend’s mom.  It said, “Are you okay? Where are you? Tell M I love him.”  The next text was from Keith.  It said, “Our house was hit.” 

Across town, shortly after my initial call to Keith, he watched it turn black outside – he didn’t hear any sirens.  When his ears suddenly popped, Keith grabbed the girls and ran to the closest “safe” place – our closet.  He laid over Emily and Molly on the floor of the closet and listened as a tornado went over our house.  The tornado took our garage, trees, fence, roof, two cars, boat, and bent our walls as he and our little girls huddled together – fragile and exposed.   

That was our tragedy.

Here’s our miracle:  Keith, Emily, and Molly walked out of that closet untouched and unharmed.  In our family room, all the windows blew in, parts of our neighbor’s home came into ours, and the furniture was destroyed.  Our two dogs were kenneled in the only corner of that room without glass and debris.  They were also untouched and unharmed.  Our home, unlike the homes of most of our neighbors, stood.  It was fixable.  My parents came that night and took the kids to their home in Kansas City while Keith and I began the work of sorting through belongings trying to salvage what we could as the rain poured in.  We moved into a rental house.

And life went on.  David started the third grade, Emily the second, and Molly went back to her wonderful preschool program.  Keith continued his work at a manufacturing plant in Joplin.  I began a new job as a hospice social worker.  The kids’ usual flurry of activities continued. And, while all this beautiful ordinary went on, our home was slowly rebuilt.

Seven months after the tornado we moved back home!  Our neighborhood is still empty: the trees are gone, homes are missing, our view is a path of destruction instead of homes and trees, and many of our neighbors have moved away.  However, there is construction and progress every day.  We have new neighbors on our right and old neighbors have returned across the street.  Joplin is rebuilding and healing.  The community is a supportive place for those whose stories were more tragedy than miracle.  In fact, this city feels more like home to us now than it ever has in the five years we’ve lived here. 

Life is good and the ordinary is more beautiful than ever.

12 thoughts on “One Year Later in Joplin, Missouri

  1. I remember that night, as I sat with my family in Iowa. I’d just crawled into bed and was reading before going to sleep when I heard about the tornado, and immediately tweeted you to see if you were okay.

    I had no idea of the scope of the tragedy, destruction, and loss. It never occurred me–having grown up in tornado alley in Iowa, that most of Joplin didn’t have a basement to seek shelter in.

    And Will Norton, his story.

    The wrath of mother nature.

    As a child, I loved storms. I was the kid who wanted to see a tornado (from a distance of course), but was shuttled into the basement.

    Now I fear them. Our only “safe” spot is a tiny bathroom on my main floor, and I know the flimsy walls are unlikely to stand up to any strong winds. Sitting there, blocked from the tv and radar, no sirens to warn us, trying to keep two young children in place–wondering if something will happen.

    Your story is important. It reminds those who have grown cavalier to the power a storm can have, by warnings that are funnel clouds never taking the final step.

    It is a story of hope, of survival.

    Of family.

    Of drawing and giving strength to a community.

    I cannot wait to meet you.


  2. I thought of your son David last week, I hope his Birthday goes well this year! The poor little guy shouldn’t be reminded of this every year on his Birthday. I am glad none of you were hurt. Our God is great!

  3. Ok Amy….tears again? Really? It’s still pretty real….isn’t it? I so miss our neighborhood…and so much of our “pre-life”….but I’m so grateful for the “ordinary” as you described it so beautifully. Thanks for your words and your heart….

  4. Oh, Amy….I feel like I was there, huddled, waiting. This is a beautiful piece, though it makes my heart simply ache – both for what was lost and what was not.

    Thank you.

  5. “In fact, this city feels more like home to us now than it ever has in the five years we’ve lived here.” — I understand. After Katrina, those of us who chose to stay and rebuild had a kinship that could not have been forged any other way. We built that bond with our blood, sweat, and tears.

    I’m so happy that your family is whole and happy again. ❤

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