I spent the day in Joplin, Missouri digging through the ruins of my friend’s home.
My friend, best man from my wedding and occasional canoeing buddy, English teacher Jeff Page, lived at 2301 Pennsylvania in Joplin. His home was completely destroyed by an F5 tornado on Sunday, May 22.
Jeff managed to survive the storm by standing in a doorway between the front room and his kitchen. It was an older home, one with the kind of wood that creeked elegantly as you went up the stairs, and likewise, had some decent wood throughout the home. He had a crawlspace, but the storm was on him so fast, he didn’t have time to get to it.
Somehow, he survived.
He showed me the hole he crawled out of after his home collapsed on him. He managed to escape with only a sprained ankle and 20 cuts, although he hasn’t found his cat, Cranberry. Jeff told me, “The only thing I am really upset about is losing the cat!”
Our mission today was simple: Do whatever we could to recover anything of value Jeff wanted to keep. We recovered only a few handfuls of items. Some of that wasn’t in great shape after having been rained on for a few days after the storm. I was pretty proud of my ability to find a few coins he was interested in finding, but I wish we could have recovered more.
A quick sidenote: Interestingly enough, Jeff’s car wouldn’t start – no click, no turn, nothing. I’ve heard there are other similar stories after the storm. I found this curious: Can tornadoes emit an electromagnetic pulse?
No matter what’s shown in the media, you’ve already realized it doesn’t compare to seeing it in person. The air was thick. The smell of gasoline and oil wafted around us as we worked. The drone of chainsaws echoed around the remains of the splinters that used to be called a neighborhood.
There were about 10 of us total throughout the day, working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our efforts were stymied by the huge mass of wood, shingles and other materials that was seemingly unmovable. The rest will likely end up in a landfill, burned, or whatever they do in times like these. At the end of the day, we can say we did our best, recovered a few things and all of us celebrated the survival of our friend through the storm.
As we left, my wife and I traveled east through Joplin to survey more of the damage. I can describe it best as hell. At several points I realized I wasn’t sure where I was while I was driving. Recognizable landmarks were gone. Street signs were nonexistent. I grew up very close to Joplin and have been down these streets many, many times. That bit of “home” for me doesn’t exist anymore. It’s dead.
I really don’t know the people of Joplin move forward. There’s so much to clean up. Rebuilding will take years. The grief of getting over the loss of loved ones will take a lifetime.
Kiss your loved ones. Do things that matter. Don’t waste your life. Be prepared for the storms.
They will come.
Update (11/08/2011): On November 7, 2011, Jeff was reunited with his cat, Cranberry, who ended up making it through the storm after all and was found by an animal rescuer.