I’ve been through hundreds of storms. I’ve seen wall clouds, hail the size of softballs and I’ve even seen a tornado from a distance. Being from Kansas you are use to these things. You go through years and years of watches and warnings and it is no big deal to hear sirens. That just means there’s something worth going outside to look at. It’s just another day in Kansas. Don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. It took less than that for the tornado to become visible in Joplin. It didn't take long to change Joplin forever. Seeing pictures and videos does not do it justice. According to the National Weather Service, a large portion of Joplin Missouri was devastated by an EF-5 (greater than 200 mph) tornado. Latest reports from Thursday 6/2 indicate an estimated 138 fatalities and over 1150 injured in the Joplin MO area. The Joplin tornado is the deadliest since modern record keeping began in 1950 and is ranked 8th among the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.
Imagine the chaos that must have occurred in and around Joplin on May 22, 2011. It was late on Sunday afternoon as people went about their regular routines; running errands, fixing dinner, walking the dog, when the sirens off. Did they take cover or were they like me, outside looking up? On the other end of the spectrum are the people who take heed. A watch means stay close to a radio or TV and a warning means take cover. It must have been terrifying. You never know when 5 minutes could change your life.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine your life, your family, your belongings and your memories being sucked into a tornado and strewn or miles. Everything you own. Everything you cherish. What you knew as your live has been taken away. What next? Your home is gone, you have nothing but the clothes on your back and whatever is left around you. Everything was fine then suddenly, you’re homeless.
2 weeks after the tornado, I had the opportunity to go with other church members to pass out supplies to survivors. I was excited to go and help even if it was for just 2 days. At first we went to Galena, a small town not too far from Joplin. We reported in at the Galena Assembly of God and was overwhelmed by what I saw.
We were taken to a large open room and it was full of donations. Clothes, bedding, shoes, belts, ties, coats, jackets, anything you can think of. It wasn’t until day 2 that I realized there was another room full of food, drinks, diapers, stuffed animals, games, toiletries and it was overflowing too. We spent 2 days helping to sort and organize items from the first room so that when people came in, it would be easy for them to find things. It was a big job with hundreds of volunteers participating. It was an awesome sight.On top of that, the church housed people from the Red Cross, Search & Rescue, members of the medical community and volunteers. There was a table full of food at all times as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a big church and every square inch was being used.
We visited part of the damaged area and it was incomprehensible. There were blocks and blocks of destruction. You couldn’t tell where one property ended and another one began. Trees were completely uprooted and thrown around like toothpicks. Personal items were mixed with dirt, drywall, wood and just about anything you can think of.
I’m going back next week to help clean up. It will be hard work but it will be gratifying to help people get to the point where they can rebuild. I want to give them hope because I know what it’s like not to have it. There is still life in Joplin and we will help them find it.
These trips are being organized by Evangel Assembly of God, 11444 W 21st St. N Wichita, KS, 67205. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30. Their phone number is 316.749.1111. There will be at least 2 more trips so there is still time to help out.