When I realized how close Springfield, MO (our vacation destination) was to Joplin, MO, I knew I wanted to make a trip down to see the destruction first hand.
For those of you who may not know, a big part of Joplin was destroyed by a tornado a little more than a month ago, killing more than 150 people. The town has been on my mind ever since. I just can’t imagine what they must be going through. Last week, I checked someone in to my hotel who was working in the hospital at the time the tornado hit, and his sadness has stuck with me as well. He had to help carry bodies out of the hospital, and it was obvious how hard it was on him.
It wasn’t too difficult to convince my family to make the hour drive to Joplin, although my daughter put up a little bit of a fight. She thought it would be too sad, but I explained to her that it would be a way to pay our respects, and show them that they are in our thoughts and prayers.
Once we exited off the interstate, there really was no sign that a tornado had hit. Other than the many relief centers set up, (nice to see where our donations had gone) the town looked pretty normal. Once we hit the area where the tornado touched down, however, it was quite obvious. The town went from perfect, to a few windows blown out, to total destruction. Our minds could not really wrap around what we were seeing.
The tornado itself had been about a mile wide, and stayed on the ground for 6 miles. Six miles of residential and commercial areas. We drove through a few of the subdivisions, which by this time had been “cleared” up enough to let traffic through. I was overwhelmed with emotions… just watching people dig through the wreckage that once was their home, seeing furniture, appliances, kids’ toys – all out in the open. Very few walls were left standing. All trees had been de-barked – their tops all broken off. My eyes were filled with tears, and I wanted so much to be able to talk to these people, and be able to comfort them, and let them know that even though a month has gone by, there are still people out there who care and want to help.
We got out of our van where a Knights of Columbus Hall once stood… We could see the hospital from there… the trees near us had roofing and siding wrapped around them. In the piles of debris, we could see shoes, toys, chairs, and all around us we could hear bull dozers, hammers, and volunteers – all working together to get the town back on its feet. I stood there holding my daughter’s hand, holding back tears, saying a silent prayer for the people of Joplin, and another for my family – I pray they realize just how lucky they are – how their troubles are a drop in the bucket compared to these families. I hope they’ve recognized the unselfishness of the many volunteers, and I hope they’ve gotten a glimpse of how a community can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and continue on.
I’m not sure I will ever forget the people of Joplin – I actually hope I don’t. I, too, need their circumstance to help me realize how blessed I am.