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FIRST PERSON: Tornado Turned Joplin, My Hometown, Into A War Zone

Patch Reporter Seth Putnam is used to twisters, but this time it's overwhelming. Now his hometown is bracing for another round of severe weather.

Where I come from, the Midwestern plains between the Appalachians and the Rockies,  we watch funnel clouds touch down on the plains every spring. That’s why they call it Tornado Alley. In and around Joplin, Mo.—where I grew up, where I played soccer, where I graduated from high school—tornadoes are a raw, unmerciful fact of life. Which, I suppose, is why I wasn’t all that concerned when I got the first text message.

“Your family ok? Joplin area got hit hard.” I’m sure it’s fine. Something different gets torn up around here every year. 

But about 29 messages later it was clear that this was unlike anything my town had ever seen. On Sunday, an EF5 twister—the only one in Missouri’s history, with winds greater than 200 mph—bulldozed Joplin into a domestic war zone. It cut a swath down Rangeline Road, the town’s Michigan Avenue. Complete chaos. Trees snapped off like toothpicks. Cars wrapped around telephone poles. A helicopter crumpled and tossed, its blades sheared off. Whole city blocks just…gone. Jagged horizon for miles.

In 2008, another tornado rolled through Picher, Okla., about 25 miles southwest of Joplin. I was working for Joplin’s newspaper, the Globe, and my editor sent me to visit a woman who had lost her son. They couldn’t reach her by phone, so they told me, a 19-year-old cub reporter, to knock on her door, look her in the eyes and ask her about her dead child.

The young man, Samuel, had just returned from active duty as a military policeman in South Korea. He and his new bride got caught in the storm on their way to dinner. They were 20 and 19 respectively, and they left behind an 8-month-old son. They were found on Mother’s Day.

Now, with 122 dead (as of Tuesday), 700 injured and some 1,500 missing, there are Samuels everywhere.

Like Will Norton, a young man who went to my high school. His father watched from the passenger seat as the seat belt snapped off his son, and Will was torn through the sun roof of their SUV. He’s still missing.

More text messages have pinged my phone in the past few days, with the threat that a new cyclone is on its way to rip another streak through the city.

“I can’t even count how many people I know that lost everything.”

“It’s like we were in a horror movie…”

“I feel so guilty having a place to come home to. That side of Joplin is just gone.”

“I’m scared to even be in my house.”

“Another one’s supposed to hit at 5.”

But no matter what happens, the mayor of our small city put it this way: “We’re not going to let some little tornado kick our ass.” Even if it was an EF5.

It took only  minutes for a third of my hometown to vanish, and it may take years for it to re-appear. But if there’s anything more certain than a tornado in the Midwestern spring, it’s that Joplin will be back.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The YouTube video was made by a survivor as the tornado hit a gas station where about 20 people had taken refuge from the storm. Fortunately our writer, Seth Putnam, was not there. Follow the link to see the devastation the next morning, and how they survived.

Samantha Liss May 25, 2011 at 09:55 PM
Seth, I'm so sorry to hear about your hometown. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family and friends that may have been in Joplin during the tornado. That video was intense and literally brought tears to my eyes, especially when the person behind the camera starts telling the friends around him that he loves them.
Deep Dish Pizza May 26, 2011 at 04:28 AM
It's sick and disgusting that Republican leader Eric Cantor in Congress is so twisted he would hold the residents of Joplin hostage and demand that middle class and senior citizen programs get slashed in order to pay for help getting Missouri back on its feet. How cruel have conservatives become in this country?! (And this is the sort of radical right-winger that Glenview's Congressman Bob Dold keeps voting with? ....The company you keep....)
Andrea Johnson May 26, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Whatever. It's sick and disgusting that the vast majority of the entire country shouted to the liberals that they didn't want their healthcare plan, and that didn't stop Obama and Pelosi did it? Or the dozen e-mails sent to former Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean's office that were completely ignored that I sent once, and it's also disgusting that since we had a surplus in 2003, the Democratic Congress voted to spend us $13 trillion into debt and blamed it all on the Republicans, and continue to do little to cut spending. Maybe you should pay for all the country's debt, people are sick of it. And I pray the people in Missouri get all the help they need, but there should be funding set aside for this already if our president and congress was properly prepared, which clrealy they almost always aren't. We could probably have tons of troops there right now if Obama didn't have them in other countries or continued to slash military budgets now couldn't we?
Andrea Johnson May 26, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Seriously, I am sick of such allegations by liberals like the one above with no proof to back up their claims. Please show your source for this post!
Sully May 27, 2011 at 10:55 PM
You really believe a vast amount of the country didn't want a change in health care? Wow, Fox really has you snookered. So I see you post in more than just Grayslake. Truly pathetic. Truly one sad bitter individual. I guess it's the people's fault that Joplin got hit by this tornado, right, Andrea? What a waste of human skin you are. I'm glad I clicked your name. Now I can see all the bitter words you post everywhere.
Lennie Jarrett. May 27, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Dear goodness... you got issues that need to be worked out.
Sully May 29, 2011 at 12:50 AM
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/03/05/poll-do-americans-want-government-health-care-reform/ http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/mar/19/john-yarmuth/yarmuth-40-percent-health-care-bill-opponents-say-/ http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/02/americans_still_want_health-ca.html http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20065417-503544.html http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/health/policy/21poll.html For the record, i don't think the health care bill went far enough, and Obama completely caved.

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