Thursday, May 22, 2014

From three years ago- Death, destruction hit Joplin, Missouri

May 22, 2011- It does not seem like it has been three years since the tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri. leaving death and destruction in its wake. I wrote the following essay approximately 14 hours after the tornado for the Huffington Post. It later was featured in our book 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado. As I read through it, I remember not only the horror I felt as I listened to reports of the tornado, but also the sense of dread that fell over Joplin the following day as we awaited what forecasters thought might be another round of tornadoes.

Each year, my eighth graders at Joplin East Middle School look forward to their first official visit to Joplin High School.
They have heard the horror stories about the school, how they, as freshmen the next year, will need to stay clear of the seniors who have worked their way up to the top of the food chain.
They speak in hushed whispers of Eagle Alley, a near mythical hallway that one almost needs a guide to navigate.
That first trip, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will never happen.
Eagle Alley is a thing of the past. After the devastating killer tornado that ripped through the heart of my city Sunday night, Joplin High School, the place where so many of my former students have learned the skills they need to succeed in life, the place where they made friends, created memories, and prepared for their passage into adulthood exists only in memory.
At least 89 people are reported dead and hundreds injured as a result of the first major tornado to hit Joplin in four decades.
Those of us who were fortunate enough not to be in the path of the storm (it hit approximately a quarter of a mile from the apartment complex where I live) waited in the center of a darkened city, praying that loved ones had somehow managed to remain safe in what reporters were describing as a scene from a war zone.
With nearly all power gone in this city of 50,000, the night sky was still illuminated by jagged streaks of lightning in the distance and by the lights from emergency vehicles as they passed every few seconds.
When morning arrived, we were greeted by a sun that seemed almost foreign in light of what had happened.
And now the waiting begins. Every few moments I scan through Facebook postings, heartened by messages that indicate my students and former students are alive. So far, none have been listed among the casualties through word of mouth, but it may be only a matter of time. Officials have yet to release any of the names of those who were killed.
The Joplin School District has canceled classes for today and they may well be finished for the school year, which had another nine days to go. Three of our school buildings are gone forever and the middle school where I teach no longer has a roof.
Many of my former students received their high school diplomas Sunday afternoon during graduation ceremonies at Missouri Southern State University, commemorating their achievements over the past four years at Joplin High School. Now that ceremony, which should have been a memorable milestone in their young lives, will always be tainted by tragedy.
As I write these words, slightly more than 14 hours have passed since the city of Joplin was changed forever.
The welcoming sunshine of just an hour ago has vanished, replaced by darkening clouds and the steady, insistent rumbling of thunder.
And now we wait.
5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and can be purchased locally at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and Vintage Stock on the Mall in Joplin, as well as at Pat's Books in Carthage.

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