Joplin: One Year Later

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“Imagine a path of destruction a mile wide along City Avenue from  the Schuylkill Expressway to West Chester Pike.” (about a seven mile stretch)

That’s how I often characterized to Philadelphians what Joplin was like a day after an EF 5 tornado tore through the town. Even that though doesn’t truly do the destruction justice. If your home or business was in the path of the tornado, it got destroyed. Not just damaged, but destroyed. The tornado spared nothing. I wrote about my experience one year ago in a series of blog posts.

So today being the one year anniversary of that tornado, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

First, I am struck by the immense progress that has been made in such a short amount of time in Joplin. I’ve been following the progress via twitter and online. It’s remarkable how resilient people there are. Sure there is still plenty to do, but by most accounts 65-80% of businesses, homes, and government buildings have been rebuilt. Schools and playgrounds that were wiped out one year ago, once again are home to children.  (USAToday article about Joplin now)

Of course the physical wounds are sometimes much easier to fix than the emotional ones. No doubt, Joplin residents are still scarred by what happened and won’t ever forget it. But they aren’t dwelling on it. Even within hours after the tornado hit, people who lost homes, businesses, even loved ones, were helping others. Spending most of my life on the East Coast, the worst I’ve ever endured was a blizzard or mild hurricane. In general, we don’t live in fear of our entire city being blown off the map. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity yet to return to Joplin, but based on what I’ve read and what  I’ve heard from the many people I’ve spoken to there, the people of Joplin are determined to rebuild a better city than the one nature destroyed. There is no manual on what to do. They have to figure it out as they go. But, they know it can’t be done alone. Joplin’s victims have to rely on family, friends, and total strangers. (CBS News story about anniversary in Joplin) For my own part, I will forever be changed by witnessing the human spirit’s ability to endure.

Professionally, Joplin was the most rewarding week I have ever been through. In my role with public affairs, it wasn’t my job to set up cots, hand out supplies, or provide grief counseling. The three other SEPA Chapter workers deployed to Joplin with me provided those other vital roles, along with hundreds of other Red Cross workers. I was there to help get the word out to the people of Joplin and to the country at large about where to get help and how to give help. It’s a role I was proud to serve. I apply what I saw and learned in Joplin to everything I do with the Red Cross now. The impact is that lasting and that meaningful. (click here to watch brief video about SEPA’s role in Joplin)

I met some amazing people. I met a woman in her 90s who narrowly escaped being swept up by the tornado as she made it to a basement just in time. I met a Red Cross volunteer who lost two loved ones in the tornado, but was still at the shelter every day to help others. I met countless of people who were lucky to be alive, but fearful of the future. I got to witness several families, separated by the tornado and fearing the worst, get reunited at the Red Cross shelter.

So as I look back at Joplin one year later, I am still heartbroken by what happened there. But I am also heartened by how a city and a country came together under horrific circumstances. I am especially proud of the Red Cross, the only agency able to care for so many people for so long.

I will continue to keep the people of Joplin in my thoughts and prayers. I ask that you do too.

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