Imagine a residential neighborhood, just your average everyday neighborhood; houses about 30 feet apart, nice streets, shrubbery, 3rd and 4th generation families living there…this was Joplin, MO before May 22, 2011.
Having been on several mission trips these past few years with CSF, you would think, or at least I did, that I wouldn’t be too greatly shocked by the extent of the damage in Joplin. But this was on a whole other scale. In New Orleans, you could see the flood damage: water/mud lines on walls, buildings boarded up and condemned, even the spray painted markings were there from search parties. The difference was, the buildings were still there! The area of Joplin that was hit by the EF-5 tornado was very much the same as described, but now that area is COMPLETELY barren. The tornado carved out a 1 by 6 mile, yes MILE, block of the town, in an area much described like that above. Nothing was left standing, not even a tree. Anything that is now standing in the core damage zone is of new construction. This includes power poles, houses, and there are still no trees.
The first day, as we were driving to a site, this completely caught us all off guard. One minute we’re driving through what would be like downtown Morgantown, and then it literally just stops…like you’ve dropped off the edge of the Earth. I’ve seen nothing like this before, the amount of destruction that occurred, even the local high school had been completely leveled. The only thing really left standing in the main path of the tornado was a hospital.
This hospital is what gave us the idea of the strength of this tornado. It was a 9 story, concrete constructed building. The tornado picked this hospital up and shifted it 5 inches off its foundation…as a whole! The hospital was built so strong that, long after the tornado, a large wrecking ball wasn’t capable of knocking it down. They are in the process of using jackhammer attachments on excavators to tear it down, piece by piece.
I can remember several times driving through Joplin that I was going 55 MPH and would pass a sign that said, “Speed Limit 35 MPH”, and I would think to myself, “Why is the speed limit so low? This is a good sized main highway, it should be 55.” It was then I’d be reminded that homes, families with kids playing in the yard, dogs barking, barbeques…everything you’d expect in a suburban area…had existed here less than a year before. Now, there is very little, a few houses here and there that are being built. I won’t forget that complete and total erasure of a neighborhood.
There’s something else I won’t forget either. Even with the amount of destruction, cleanup, and rebuilding that has been brought to Joplin, the people there are amazing. They are some of the most appreciative and caring people I’ve met on mission trips. From just hollering out to thank volunteers at a stop light, offering to help us out and feed us very good meals, all the way to erecting a memorial to all the volunteers at a local park, these amazed me at how much they care about those who care enough to help them. It’s amazing really, through a complete destruction of a huge part of the town, Joplin has been able to show God’s love to a great many people.
[Written by Dustin Whitt]