Saturday, July 30, 2011
Coming soon: 5:41- Stories from the Joplin Tornado
Everybody who was in Joplin at 5:41 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2011, has a story about the tornado that ripped through our town. It would be impossible to find a way to include all of them in one volume, so Carthage Press Editor John Hacker and I have collected a representative sample, which will be published in September with the title 5:41 and the subtitle #Stories from the Joplin Tornado."
The photo accompanying this post, is the one that will be used for the book's cover.
The following is the introduction to the book. Some of the stories that will be included are listed after the introduction:
Tragedy brings people together.
I saw evidence of that right in front of me as I walked along the checkout lines a the 7th Street Wal-Mart in Joplin looking for one of those blue hand baskets so I didn’t have to push an unwieldy cart around the store.
I saw two of my former students, a brother and sister, sitting on a bench, apparently waiting for other family members to finish shopping. The older one had just finished her first year in college. When she was in my eighth grade English class, she was a gifted writer with a way of translating her feelings and fears into poetry. From Facebook conversations with the girl’s younger sister, another former student of mine, I knew that her family had been hit particularly hard by the May 22 tornado that hit this city.
The girl had her arm around her younger brother in a manner that could only be described as protective.
She spotted me approaching and shouted, “Mr. Turner!” drawing the attention of those in the checkout lanes directly behind us.
For the next 20 minutes, I heard a harrowing story of how her family had been right in the middle of the most destructive tornado to ever hit our city. She was home alone at 5:41 p.m. She was the only member of her family who did not get hit by the tornado.
The family was rushing home to be with her when torrential rain began, accompanied by hail. Her father pulled over and they ran into the AT&T building, which proved to be no protection when the tornado hit.
Her mother and her sister were badly injured and had to be taken by helicopter to a Springfield hospital. Thankfully, both survived, though they have a long road ahead of them.
After our conversation ended, I finally found a hand basket and began shopping. As I walked through the aisles, I saw more people who were stopped and talking than I had ever seen in a Wal-Mart store before.
I caught bits and pieces of the various conversations. Not one of them did not include at least some mention of the tornado. For the first few weeks after May 22, the tornado was the only topic of conversation here.
I changed the way I approached conversation and I am sure others did, too. When I ran into friends, acquaintances, and former students, after the initial greeting, I always asked if they had been hit by the tornado. The last thing I wanted to do was start up some silly chatter with people who may have lost someone or who had been displaced.
After I asked, nearly every time the question was greeted with a story. It also changed the way we talked about where we lived. When I was asked the tornado question, I always replied, “No, I was lucky. I was about three blocks from where the tornado hit.”
I quickly realized that I was not the only one to take that approach. I cannot count the number of people who told me how many blocks they were away from the tornado.
I wish everyone could have had that answer. Sadly, many of my conversations were with people who had lost their homes and all of their possessions. Some were staying with relatives. Some had been lucky enough to locate scarce rental property. Some feared they would never again live in the city limits of Joplin.
Every one of the people I talked to had a story about the Joplin Tornado. And every one of them will remember that time, 5:41, forever.
I heard the tornado stories while going about my everyday routine. For my co-author, John Hacker, it was part of his job. John, the editor of The Carthage Press, was in Joplin less than a half hour after the tornado. Though he has a well-earned reputation as one of the best reporters in Missouri, and is a skilled interviewer, he discovered what many reporters who have covered the aftermath of a tragedy have long found to be true- people want to talk.
As John walked through the heart of the devastation that evening, he heard many stories, some of which are included in this volume.
When we decided to write this book, it did not take long to come up with a title. As we wrote our stories and had others sent to us for inclusion in the book, for some reason I thought about the tag line in Naked City, a black-and-white television series from the early ‘60s, about police work in New York City. Each episode ended with the narrator saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city- this was one of them.”
When the series ended after a four-year run, there were still more than seven million stories waiting to be told.
This collection of stories from the Joplin Tornado is far from comprehensive. If there were 50,000 people in the city May 22, there are 50,000 stories, all centering around what happened at 5:41. We hope the few dozen stories and photographs in this book will serve as a representative sampling of an evening Joplin will never forget.
Included in the book are the following:
-John Hacker's reporting from the scene just a few moments after the tornado
-Kelly Maddy's powerful "45 seconds" detailing his experience with the tornado.
-The story of a St. John's ER doctor
-John's profile of Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles
-Kristin Huke's account of the tornado at Freeman Hospital
-Death at the Full Gospel Church
-Code Black at Wal-Mart, with two stories
-My former Diamond Middle School student Gary Harrall talks about how the tornado leveled his home and made him decide it was time to move back to the country.
-Melissa Rainey Campbell tells a tale of survival entitled "I Know God Was With Me."
-Former Carthage Press and Joplin Daily reporter Kaylea Hutson tells the story of one of my favorite former students, JHS sophomore Laela Zaidi, who lost her home, as did all of the members of her extended family who live in Joplin.
-John writes about a Sarcoxie soldier who saved lives at Wal-Mart
-Rhonda Hatfield offers "A Survivor's Story."
-The Joplin hospitals weren't the only ones that dealt with tornado victims May 22. John writes about the activity at McCune-Brooks.
-My former colleague at East Middle School Andrea Thomas tells a harrowing story of riding out the tornado in a bathtub as their house was blown away around them.
-John offers an insightful story on how Missouri Southern State University was used during the aftermath of the tornado.
-Another former student of mine, Lacy Heiskell writes about "A Graduation Day I Will Never Forget."
-Iris Fountain says it all when she writes "In an instant, everything was gone."
-Shanti Navarre writes about "The Story That Affected Me for Life."
-I write about the glue that held the city of Joplin together during and after the tornado, the folks at KZRG and the Zimmer Group.
-My first story from the day after the tornado, "Death, Destruction, Hit Joplin
-Ninth grader Denton Williams, (another former student) writes "Lucky to Have a Home."
-Believe it or not, yet another one of my favorite former students, Shaney Delzell, writes about "The Day That Changed Everything."
-A Freeman maintenance worker offers a first hand account of the tornado and its aftermath.
-The young man who sadly became the face of the Joplin Tornado, but also one of its victims, 2011 JHS graduate Will Norton, is the focus of three stories, two written by me, and one by Rose Fogarty from St. Louis, who writes about Will Norton brought her St. Lou Crew to Joplin, where it has been doing a wonderful job helping with the recovery effort.
-I have some school-related tornado stories.
-John's interview with the folks at Samaritan's Purse, who not only offer their own stories, but also tell some heartwarming and heartbreaking stories told to them by others.
-Michael R. Sharp writes about "Hell's Half Hour."
-Tanya Sneddon writes about "Joplin Forever Changed."
-Even more stories.
-Color photos on the front and back covers and page after page of black-and-white photos, mostly taken by John Hacker, on the inside pages.
-The complete text of the speeches given by President Obama, Gov. Nixon, Aaron Brown and Randy Gariss at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service, with photos.
-The final National Weather Service report on the tornado.
-Complete obituaries of those who died.
The book will be well over 200 pages.
I will be publishing more information about the book's availability soon.