Growing up in Oklahoma, when a storm was coming, my mother always took us to a cellar. Nothing ever happened, but even as a child I felt like it could. When the May 22, 2011 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, our lives were changed forever. This EF-5 Monster left such devastation that even after nine months, I have emotions that leave me with an empty feeling. My husband and I took refuge in an interior closet. The sounds of fierce wind, glass breaking, enormous trees hitting the ground, debris hitting our house, roof damage and the house shaking — all of this seemed to last forever. Seeing what happened took my breath away. The sounds of the storm are still in my head.
An amazing thing happened shortly after the storm moved east. People began to check on neighbors and also those they didn’t know. There was no power, water or phone service. Nothing worked, but we did have a portable radio and listened to it all night. They told just how bad things were and described our town like it was a war zone. Helicopters and large trucks were in search and rescue all night. A curfew was put in place. We never left our home, even with the damage, because as fast as the tornado came, so did the looters. We saw the best in people and the worst in people. I choose to see the best, but I know there is always another side.
This happened on Sunday evening and many believe this is why our death toll wasn’t higher. By the next day, large amounts of supplies came into town. Cases of bottled water were given to us. Thousands of volunteers and a variety of help from around the world has shown me the compassion of the human spirit. Each person can do something to help. When someone came by for whatever reason, I offered them water. The heat and the wind were almost unbearable for several months, but people kept coming to help in whatever way possible. “God bless you” was spoken innumerable times.
Recovery is slow, but we can see signs of homes being rebuilt or repaired. Businesses are doing the same. What is so fantastic is to see children playing and smiles on their faces. Some of the fear is going away. The human spirit is strong and resilient. People of all faiths came here to help. They never asked us what we believed. They just asked “How can I help and what do you need?
Looking back, I realize many experiences in life come unexpected. None of us knows what may happen from one moment to the next. I will not always be prepared ahead of time, but deep inside is the human spirit that is given strength to withstand even in the aftermath of an EF-5 tornado. The future looks brighter with each passing day. I truly believe that even in devastation, hope and recovery will rise to make us better people. This does not diminish the fact that there was great loss in life and property, but each memory makes a place within our heart forever. THIS I BELIEVE!