Mark, a resident of Joplin, MO, tells volunteers the story of when the tornado of May 22 ripped through his apartment complex.
“I guess no one has told you how it happened here.”
Stepping over the ruins of apartment buildings, winding our way through chunks of brick and over shards of exploded windows, we could hardly imagine an explanation to “how it happened.”
After a full day of volunteering at donation centers around Joplin, Missouri, we decided to see what damage was still left after the tornado. Driving along a main road through Joplin, everything appeared normal. Restaurants were bustling, stop lights blinked from green to yellow to red while cars whizzed up and down the roads. Everything was stable.
Until the intersection.
Slicing through the center of town, a mile wide gash of destruction bled from one side of the intersection to the other as far as we could see. On the horizon one direction sat St. John’s Hospital, the only building still standing. In the other direction were piles of gutted buildings, roofs swept off like lego buildings in the aftermath of a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum. Shattered.
Standing in a parking lot by one of the apartments, we strove to take in the horrific sight.
Mark, a former resident of one of the apartments, apparently noticed our grim looks. Introducing himself, he volunteered to “tell us how it happened” for him that terrifying day and walk us around the area.
Mark surveys the place where he and his wife were trapped beneath debris after the tornado.
Mark and his wife had lived in Joplin for a mere six months before the tornado came. For the last five weeks, their home has become a local hotel room.
Walking us to where the club house of the apartments use to stand (not even a skeleton of what it once was remained), he showed us where he, his wife and their dog sat. That day, he said, when the sirens went off, he and his wife decided to go down to the club house to wait out the storm. Many of the residents, including families and children, huddled in the building. As the tornado approached, Mark said the first thing he felt was the pressure drop.
“Like when you dive into the deep end of a pool,” he said.
The building began to shake and the roof disappeared. Children screamed and his wife prayed out loud fervently by his side.
“It was comforting to hear her, to know she was still there,” Mark said.
He and his wife were trapped beneath the rubble. His dog hid beneath his legs on the floor as the tornado sucked all debris and
Not much remains of the clubhouse where Mark and his wife sought shelter when the tornado ripped through Joplin.
structures toward its depths. For what would be a short amount of time to anyone else, the tornado struck with a vengeance.
After it passed them, Mark and his wife found themselves alive under the debris. They were grateful to be alive, though he was wounded on the back of his head and his wife with a concussion. No one in the clubhouse that day was killed. Though approximately twenty yards away in another building, life left several others. Less than a block away, Home Depot no longer existed and all within its walls were lost.
Mark and his wife were taken to a hospital in another town and received care there.
Now they, along with hundreds of others, must face the reality of rebuilding.
“About 46 percent of people affected by the tornado either don’t have insurance or not enough,” Mark said.
To him, volunteers are a glimmer of light and encouragement.
“Just your smile,” he said, would help.
Amazingly resilient standing beside what was once his home, Mark was an example of strength in the face of disaster. Grateful for life and the help and care of others, he extended a welcome to us, strangers, as one would welcome friends into a home.
Mark implanted in our hearts a glimmer of understanding and encouraged us to continue caring even in small, seemingly insignificant ways like a smile.
Today, Joplin and other cities across the States band together to begin the long process of rebuilding lives and homes. But along with the rubble comes the chance for neighbor to care for neighbor, and for those with much to pour out on those who lost much.
Now begins the long road up and out.