This past weekend The Oracle and I traveled to Missouri to spend the weekend with my brother and his family.
Joplin, MO to be exact.
Home of the soon-to-be recategorized F6 tornado of May 22, 2011.
It was a great visit; we haven’t seen them in 18 months and it was great to get caught up and to see where they live. They moved there about 3 years ago and it was our first time getting there.
Among the many things we crammed into 2 full days was what the locals call “The Tornado Tour”. They showed us Ground Zero for the tornado – a grassy hill whose landscape has been forever changed. They showed us neighborhoods that have already been rebuilt and others, like the image at left, that still show the devastation. You would drive down one street after another and see nothing – literally. No trees, no structures, just flat concrete slabs where a house or building used to be. Then other streets would show random, minor damage and still others would have partial structures and trees still standing.
They showed us where the high school once stood. The day the tornado hit was graduation day and thankfully the ceremony had already been scheduled to be held elsewhere so there was no one at the school. The high school building wasn’t so lucky – it was mostly taken away by the tornado; what was left has been demolished and is now a 1-story tall pile of rubble. The image at right is of a tree near the site of the school – the tree is dead (as are most of the trees that weren’t uprooted or shredded into pieces) yet the citizens of Joplin refuse to let it define them. As you can see – they are painting it a kaleidoscope of colors to represent the hope that really is the definition of Joplin.
By far the most heartbreaking thing we saw – which is saying alot as it was all heartbreaking – was Mercy Hospital. Mercy is about 1/4 mile from where the monster touched down and it took a direct hit from a tornado that actually had 4 funnels within the outer wall. What you see at left is exactly how it looked after the tornado ripped thru it. Nothing has been touched yet; the tornado sucked out all the windows and actually lifted the entire hospital up, slamming it back down about 4 inches off from where it belonged.
I didn’t take any more pictures than this; it felt voyeuristic to be snapping pictures of someone else’s tragedy. 162 people died in the areas we saw – it’s sobering to say the very least.
Yet the evidence of rebuilding is everywhere; where one neighborhood is still largely flattened across the street an entirely new one has taken shape with all houses before the tornado being replaced. Even along the main shopping district, nearly 1 mile of one side is all new construction. And most notably, the Home Depot and Wal-Mart – both of which were flattened to nothing – have been rebuilt and opened for business for several months.
Joplin, MO was a lovely city; the people were all unfailingly polite. And their spirit, their resilience was an inspiration.
And one more note: the National Weather Service is likely to create a new Enhanced Fujita Scale to reflect the unique nature of the Joplin Tornado – raising it to EF6. Chief reason for this is that a wind meter atop Mercy Hospital recorded a sustained wind speed of 500 mph.
Let that sink in…