Saturday, May 21, 2016


Special Report: How I remember the Joplin Tornado

I have to admit, I have a bit of a sadistic side.  I don't enjoy seeing pain or seeing people in pain, but I have wanted to see destruction from time to time.  I live in tornado alley, and despite this, I have never seen a tornado.  I have been under tornado warnings a few times, and watches too many times to count.  I was at a hotel once in Springfield, MO where we were in lock down in a hallway until the tornado passed.  When I worked at Wendy's we had to send employees and customers to the freezer to protect them a couple times.  The first time I stayed in the freezer with them because I was forced to.  The second time I talked my way into being a lookout.

I wanted to see a tornado, I wanted to say I have seen a tornado.

I wanted to be a storm chaser, thanks in large part to Twister, but have always been fascinated with weather.  I should have been a meteorologist, but you need to know lots of math and science, and to be honest, neither are my strong suit, and that dream was dashed.

May 22, 2011 was like nothing I have never seen.  I've seen stories on the news about earthquakes, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and almost any other type of weather related disaster.  I live somewhat close to the Missouri River and have memories of the Flood of 1993, and the Flood of 1996. I remember the week leading up to Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath that devastated New Orleans.  I have vague memories of earthquakes that hit California in the late 80s and early 90s.  I've even remember countless storms and tornadoes that have affected Central Missouri throughout my life.

None of it was like the Joplin tornado.  A few weeks earlier tornadoes leveled parts of Alabama and the response was amazing.  2011 wasn't a great year for me, a lot of personal things in my life affected me early in 2011, and as a result I had more time to spend online looking things up.  From that standpoint, I absorbed a lot of the events of Joplin as it happened, and being a few hours away from it, the local news crews were able to ascend to the southwest corner of the state and give me wall to wall coverage.  The local radio stations had sister stations in Joplin which allowed for even more coverage.  I was able to utilize Facebook and Twitter for up to the seconds stories, photos, and tales of desperation, search, and hope.  I had many area newspapers bookmarked, and some managed to utilize live blogging to give more news.  I was saturated with coverage, and I was enjoying it as much as one could from the devastation it presented.

I remember finding a website online that had live scanner channels from the first responders in Joplin.  Later I learned it wasn't really a good idea to do that (I heard it was actually illegal and you could be prosecuted or something, so I've stopped doing it, not sure if it was true).  I would listen for 3-4 days anytime I was awake.  You would hear dispatchers sending calls out for missing people, injuries, crowd control, and even a few cases of looting.  Fires broke out, and a threat of gas leaks really kept fire departments on alert.

The night it happened I can't remember what exactly I was doing, but if I had to guess it was most likely watching the Royals on television.  Without seeing recent stories about it in the last week, I wouldn't be able to tell you who they were playing, but I found out it was actually the St. Louis Cardinals.  The storms themselves were headed towards us, and it had already started to rain.  Usually when this occurred I would be getting as much information I could get on the storms, anything from current tracking to damage reports.  As I think about it, I think we might have been under a thunderstorm watch or warning at around 5 PM, so I had it on local news on TV.  Since this was a threat to our area, no mention to the severity of the storms heading toward Joplin at that time, but I do remember the forecasters at the time noting that after the current storms passed, we weren't out of the woods yet.  They mentioned more storms coming, and a threat of tornadoes were possible.

At around 5:40 PM, the tornado struck down in Joplin.  By 6 PM, preliminary reports were already that not only had a tornado touched down in Joplin, but it was a possibly pretty bad.  By 6:30, I was already getting news online about how bad it possibly was.  By the time the 10 PM local news came on, the reports were already widespread and one local television station already had people heading to Joplin for reports.

Since I was (and still am) an insomniac, I stayed up all night reading, listening, watching and taking in as much information as I could.  An 18 wheeler flipped over at a Pilot Travel Center, and people all over Joplin were also smelling gas throughout the town.  No power in most of the city either.

The Pilot station they mentioned I remembered stood out for a couple reasons.  First because on one of only a couple times I've been to Joplin, I actually was at that store.  The second is because I may or may not have mentioned, some of the workers of the Wendy's at that location trained me.  I never kept in contact with the workers, so I don't know if any still worked there, but it did add a bit of personal involvement into it.

I remember I know of a pastor who lives and preaches at a church in Joplin, and throughout the night I kept looking for an update from him.  I can't remember if it was a couple hours after the tornado, or if it was early the next day, but I finally heard he and his church was safe.

As the hours turned to days, and days to weeks, the rebuilding began and more stories and pictures emerged.  Debris was so severe that you couldn't even tell where roads were.  It seemed like a scene from a movie.  Buildings destroyed, people just walking around aimlessly.  Though to be fair, what was they able to walk to?  Their houses were destroyed, so were their cars.  The first night if they were lucky enough to have there personal items spared, they were cleaning up or searching for lost ones.  Ones that lost there house and/or car were making sure they didn't also lose loved ones.  It wasn't just because they were worried, they literally had nothing else they could do.  The tornado hit at around 5:40 local time, and the rain didn't let up for a few more days, but even then the sun would have set a couple hours later, so they couldn't start rebuilding that night.

The stories were unfolding, and two really stick out in my mind.  The first was of the Joplin High School.  I heard it was destroyed.  As time went on security video emerged showing how it bad it was.  The part that sticks out though is the fact that less than an hour earlier, the Senior class walked across the stage and graduated.  Luckily for them, the graduation wasn't held at the High School, but a few miles down the road at Missouri Southern State University.  It wasn't all happy though as a not all the graduates would make it through the night.  Some were still driving home from graduation when the tornado hit.

Just this week a story came out that former Kansas City Chiefs players (and current analyst for the Chiefs) Kendall Gammon is starting a foundation in the name of a student who lost his life that night.  It was a personal story for Gammon who had a connection with the student who perished that night.  You can read the story here- KSHB

The second story I remember that night is the hospital.  By the time the morning news came around and the media descended onto the town, you already saw video of the devastation.  I remember some reporters were standing across the road from the hospital and in the background you saw this building that wasn't only unrecognizable, but unusable.  In fact, the hospital had to stage an emergency ward across the street from the hospital in an empty field.  It would eventually take four years for a new hospital to open in its place, this time with much more resistance to powerful storms.

In the years since I still keep up on severe weather, but not to the level I did on the Joplin tornado.  Maybe it is because the events aren't local.  Maybe its because I can't handle the devastation.  Maybe its because I've just lost interest.  One thing is for sure though, I'm okay with the fact I've never seen a tornado.  In fact I am a lot more blessed I haven't.

Tomorrow I am going to do another blog about the Joplin tornado, but it will be something I've wanted to do on this blog since day one but never have.  It will be written in the form of a newspaper article.  Meaning it will not have personal accounts from myself in it, and the story will focus on the event itself from information I have found, not just from what I remember.  I don't plan on doing them a lot, but I would like to do a couple a year.  I know I've said growing up I wanted to be a lot of things (including at the top of this blog), but one that I was close to being if I did go to college was to be a newspaper journalist.  I was actually going to college to be a radio DJ, but my major was going to be in Communication and focus on Journalism.  I was hoping to transfer to the University of Missouri for my later years, and while I regret not going to college, it doesn't mean I can't still try to write articles from time to time.

Part of the reason I started the Missouri Sports History blog is so I could write more articles with less emphasis on my personal accounts but more on history and actual accounts.  I have neglected the site, but I still have plans on working on it, and hope to have an article on there soon.  At any rate, if I find these articles a success, I might feature them more, and may even venture out to conduct interviews in the future.  My main focus for blogging is to have fun doing it.  Showing off stuff I have is somewhat fun, but it doesn't show growth, and I would like to grow as I do my blog.  If that means starting a new blog just for stories such as these, than so be it, but for now I will just feature them on here.

At any rate, its time to wrap up today's post, thank you for reading, and if you read my blog tomorrow and like what you see, please leave a comment.  I'm not outright begging for comments, I'm okay if I get none, but when I do something outside the realm of normal blogs I do like feedback so I know if it was a success or failure.  Also if you think I should do more and have ideas, feel free to post them.  They can be on anything as long as I have some sort of interest in it and have enough information on it.  Thanks for reading and have a great night.


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5/22/16, 1:39 AM delete

Here is the Northwest we don't get too many natural disasters so it's interesting to hear someone's perspective who is more intimately familiar with something like the Joplin tornado. Looking forward to your article!