Joplin tornado, month one

June 19, 2011

Month One

It officially began at 5:41 pm four weeks ago today.

An EF5 tornado began grinding a mile wide swath of Joplin into an unrecognizable miles long path of death and destruction unimaginable unless there, and even then uncomprehensible to those who were. Empire District Electric Company saw it’s load drop by over a third in seconds as transmission lines and substations vanished from the grid. Thousands of connections, gone in seconds.

Within minutes the survivors crawled out, strangers stepped forward, first responders arrived.

Doors as stretchers, pickups as ambulances, it was a time of use whatever you must to get the job done. With St. John’s destroyed, Freeman West bore the brunt of the immediate influx of victims and survivors with area facilities receiving their own human toll throughout the night.

By dawn, search parties were combing every inch of debris for anyone lucky enough to still be alive. Over the next few days, a few would be found, tragically many more would be not.

As always, the media descended to do their “job”, but more importantly so did thousands of volunteers from all over the country. The media gone within days, many of those volunteers still here.

Within 48 hours the first re-build permit was granted and Darren Collins began rebuilding his wife’s beauty salon on west 26th street. Miles of poles set and distribution line strung electric power began coming back to the stricken area at an amazing pace.

The Governor got involved, Congress people toured, and even the President stopped by, no matter how many or how important they couldn’t change the fact that Joplin still stood alone.

Alone in a world most see only in history books. Of bombed out cities, buildings leveled, landscapes unrecognizable.

Alone in a world wondering, why, where, how? Each within their own pain and between them and their God.

Alone in the mourning of loved ones and friends who would never return. Whose memories of would now be forever juxtaposed with every future anniversary. No matter how successful the re-build, no matter how many years of “moving on”, May 22, 2011 will always be the marking of the end for far, far too many.

As the days turned into weeks, debris removal began and rubbled buildings started to disappear. Utility trucks are now the familiar yellow of MoDot and Empire as the visiting crews have returned home. Each crew hoping that they never have to see Joplin’s yellow trucks helping them in such a way.

By week three a group of St. John’s executives and Joplin physicians flew to California to see first hand examples of the beginning of their rebuilding program. Steel framed, modular buildings that within the next few weeks will become home to many of St. John’s specialty physicians and by fall provide a more permanent “temporary” structure for St. John’s proper.

But for all the rebuilding and signs of recovery, the funeral announcements and the faces of the dead bring us right back to just how much was truly lost. Each and every one of their stories ended with chapters yet unwritten. Each and every one of them a reminder to us all, just how truly sacred the sanctity of life.

In the four weeks since hell opened up that peaceful Sunday eve, we have learned one thing: That while we may feel alone in our thoughts and our circumstances, such need not be faced alone.

For yes, we are strong, yes we are proud, but if the past four weeks has shown us anything, it is that we are most certainly, not alone.

Thank you all who have donated, volunteered and done so much to help us through a truly unimaginable time.

(Author’s note: Today at 5:41pm the Globe staff will gather in the newsroom to remember one of their own, Bruce Baillie, who lost his life in the Somerset Apartments. A co-worker to many, a friend to some, a father to Gillian, he is but one of the many and I ask you all to please take but just a moment today to reflect and remember on what is truly important in life. And if you’re of the praying kind, please put perhaps just a little extra in your prayers for all those forced to face this Father’s Day, minus one.)

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