Sunday, October 2, 2011

Significant Storms: Four months later

How is it possible that it has been almost 8 months since I have posted anything? How is this possible? Oh yeah... because I have been busier than ever!!

This spring, Chris turned 36. I think this birthday is going to be one that he will remember for a LONG LONG LONG time.

I typed a "journal entry" if you want to call it that in microsoft word shortly after, but never got around to posting it here. Let me just share that with you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011 started out like any typical Sunday. Chris went to work his soccer games in Arkansas; I woke up and took Cailin and Malia to church. We talked about being prepared for end of times and were studying Revelation. I laughed because some nut job kept saying that the end of the earth was going to be May 21. It came and went. When Randy started his preaching, he said “Had I known I’d still be here today, I would have had a sermon prepared”. After church, I picked up my girls; we went to Wal-Mart on 15th street to get a few groceries. Some groceries were for the week and others were in preparation for the following weekend (Memorial Day). We were going to meet Aunt Janette, Uncle Don and Meredith at the dock for the weekend. One thing I picked up was a pork shoulder roast we were going to smoke and take for dinner at the lake. I was so excited to eat that! Chris is a great cook when it comes to cooking on the smoker!

After we finished our shopping in Joplin, we headed home. My girls took a great nap for me. I even rested a touch too. It was Chris’s birthday and since he doesn’t like cake, I made him an apple pie. Chris came home around 4:30ish. I had sent him a message to pick something up at Wal-Mart, but by the time he got the message, he was already past Wal-Mart so I told him not to worry about it, just come home. He did and he mentioned that the sky was starting to get dark. A Storm was on the way. He got home just as I was putting the pie into the oven and set the timer.

We had heard that strong storms were coming so once Chris got home, we turned on channel 7 news. They had a storm thing running across the bottom of the screen, but that was all. The same was for channel 12. We tried channel 16 because it was getting Really dark. Finally!!! A news station talking about the oncoming storms. They were getting close. We watched for about 10 minutes and then they paned to show a tower camera in Joplin. We watched the funnel cloud form, but it was so dark it was hard to tell where it was. Then we saw some sparks. Those sparks ended up being sparks from power lines splitting. We figured that they were in Joplin and that it was close enough, we needed to go to the basement. Chris called Lynn and I called Vada. We wanted to warn them. Something must have hit a cell tower because we both had our call dropped at the same time. Chris had to wake Cailin from her nap. As we were heading down our stairs, the power went out. We later discovered that lightening hit the transmission station for our power. It came back on Tuesday afternoon. I ran back upstairs, grabbed a candle and the fire starter. My tummy was rumbling, so I ran upstairs to potty. Cailin asked if I would bring her baby doll downstairs. I grabbed a few babies and the beanbags and went back up to grab Jesse James. He was asleep on my bed. He came downstairs rather unwillingly, but eventually came. We sat in the dark in my craft room for what seemed like an hour. I think it was only 30 minutes though. We were listening to the radio and heard that a tornado touched down in Joplin. We didn’t know how strong it was. We heard that home depot was hit and that they knew Walgreens was hit; the one that was built and opened less than a year ago. We heard it was heading towards Diamond. While we were still downstairs in the dark, we started making calls to let people know that we were okay. My parents told me that the storm was already on the weather channel. At 7, we thought it was safe to come out. We knew there was hail, and we knew the storms crossed the highway a few miles from us… but it was significantly weaker at the time it crossed near us.

We kept listening to the radio and heard a bad tornado hit Joplin. And then the calls started… Chris talked to the referees that he works with as well as his co-workers from EP. One EP guy, Charles, couldn’t be reached. Refs in Arkansas called to check on us. After several hours, all of the guys from Chris’s department in EP were accounted for. Charles lost his home, but was not hurt.

At this point in time, I still didn’t realize how bad things were. I did have an overwhelming sense of security though the way everyone was calling and checking on everyone else. Chris called Lynn and him and they girls came over. Barb had been called into Joplin for emergency help. Chris and Lynn pulled out the generator and got that up and running so we had some power. Turned TV on and finally got to see some of the photos that the rest of our family had seen. It was completely unbelievable. One of our two hospitals in Joplin had been hit. After it was hit, there was a gas leak and an explosion and it had to be evacuated. While I was still downstairs in the dark, I had called my friend Myra to check on her. She lives in Joplin. She said her, the girls (Quinn and Laci), Austin (her son) and Scott, her husband, were all in the closet waiting for things to pass. Job, her other son, was at the Stained Glass Theater watching a play. When we had power on via generator, I checked again and Myra hadn’t heard from Job still. We continued to watch the news in shock for the rest of the night and I kept checking on Myra. She was now out looking for Job and her brother Ben. The Stained Glass Theater was very close to the hospital that got hit by the storm so I was a bit worried. Prayer without ceasing became a reality now. We heard that Home Depot took a direct hit. We heard Joplin High School took a direct hit. We saw Joplin high school on TV burning. You know things are bad when Lowes opens its doors and the stacks of plywood are being used as beds for a triage center for injured people.

Earlier in the day, Joplin High School had their graduation ceremony. People were just leaving the ceremony. The fact that the graduation was held at MSSU and not at JHS definitely saved quite a few lives. The fact that this hit on a Sunday evening means that there wasn’t as many workers commuting home when the storm came. Several stores were damaged, but it was very close to closing time and that saved quite a bit of people. God was definitely looking out for Joplin. I am sure that several people can say “how could God do this to us”, but if you look back, there are so many different things in place that has kept this storm from being a lot worse than it could have. God definitely was protecting us.

Myra texted me and let me know that she was still looking for Job. He was at the theater and it was now gone. She checked Freeman hospital, she checked St. John’s hospital, she checked Memorial hall which had been made into a make shift triage area. I had heard that all of the kids from Stained Glass Theater were taken to Wal-Mart on 7th street. Myra said he wasn’t there. Then I heard that he had been hurt. I wasn’t sure how much he was hurt, and I couldn’t confirm it. I didn’t want to scare her if it wasn’t true, but I sent her the info as gently as I could. It wasn’t until 12 after midnight that she sent me a message that she found Job. He had been med-flighted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City with a head injury. She was going to have her girls and Austin stay with a friend and she and Scott headed out to Kansas City. My heart broke. I was constantly asking for Job to heal and to be okay, and at the same time, I was so thankful that my whole family was together, and safe and unhurt. Before we went to bed, Chris asked how much longer did the apple pie have to cook. I told him that I really didn’t know. I set the timer on the over and was counting on that, so I really didn’t know. The power was out, so the oven was off, and the timer gone. We just left the oven closed and before bed we took a fully cooked, but not burnt apple pie out of the oven!!

Monday morning, I tended to deal with this disaster in the same manner that I have with other disasters in the past. 9/11/01, I remember sitting on the couch all day watching news story after news story after news story and hearing personal stories and such. Monday, the day after the tornado, I did the same. There was laundry to be done, there were dishes to be done, there was cleaning and general picking up that needed to get done, however, I was just too much in shock. Monday night came around. Power was still out; we had dinner on the grill and then went to bed.
Tuesday came. We were having some troubles with the generator, but Lynn came over and they fixed it. That meant we can shower!!! I took my shower and felt so much better!!! We were going to need more gas for the generator. I told Chris I would go to Carthage and get some. I also wanted to go to our church and work for a while. Our church was going to be THE distribution center for the Red Cross for Joplin. There were more storms coming Tuesday evening and I promised that I would be home before the storms came, but I just needed to get out of the house and I needed to help some. Chris agreed as long as I promised to be home before it stormed again. He wanted to make sure we are together if it got ugly… and weather channel was saying that things were more than perfect conditions for some massive storms to come through. Before I left for church, I lifted Cailin onto the back of the van. I told her that the storms did a lot of damage and there were a lot of people in Joplin that got hurt or that lost their house and I was going to try to help some of them get some clothes and food. She made me cry. The heart of a child is amazing and it just made me realize that I must be doing something right with raising my kids. Cailin points at me with her little index finger and with a firm voice she says “Momma, you go to church. You find someone that doesn’t have anywhere to live and you bring them home to us. They can live with us and I will let them sleep in my bed”. How much more unselfish can someone be. I cried the whole way to church at how much of a loving heart she has!!!!!!

I get to church and was thankful that I could get there without having to see any of the damage. I wasn’t sure that I could handle seeing that. I get to church… well almost. I was stopped behind a semi-truck. There were 3 palettes of water on the back of the truck. I pulled into the parking lot, got some directions on where to park and where to go and got started. As I was walking into the atrium, the first thing I saw was an overflowing palette of dog and cat food. I walk in and there are 2 sign-in tables. I got signed in and was sent to room A1 to wait for instruction and to see where I was going to be used. I went in with an open heart and told God that I would do whatever he wanted me to do. I just wanted to help in some way. On the way to the waiting room, walking down the hall, there were mounds and mounds and boxes and boxes of clothes that people were sorting through. After waiting about 10 minutes or so, a guy my age comes in and says they need help directing traffic. Six of us follow him and he starts explaining where we were sending people and how things were organized and such. While we were walking around, and he was ‘depositing people’ at their locations, we got to talking. Come to find out, he had lost EVERYTHING in the storm himself. His house was gone, his cars were gone, and nothing could be salvaged from his house. I asked him, “Not to sound materialistic, but how can you be here working when you have lost everything?” His response was so incredibly humbling and I don’t think I will ever forget it. He simply said “Easy, that is just stuff. My family is alive, safe and together. The rest is just stuff. I can’t take it with me in the end anyway”. This was amazing. I felt so blessed. Blessed that my family is together and safe, blessed that I still have a roof over my head, blessed to be able to help, and blessed to be a part of a church that was helping and that definitely has the right way of thinking!!

All of the parking positions were filled, so we went inside to find another job for me. I got door duty. I know it sounds insignificant; however, I enjoyed my job. I was at the door at the end of the shopping line. As people were leaving, I gave them a smile, I opened the doors for them, I double checked to see if they needed anything else, and I made sure they stopped and got something to eat. I also kept people from coming IN through my doors to start shopping. I had to be rather delicate when I sent people back out to go to another spot to start.

Things that I saw were heart breaking. There was a family that came in, the only thing they had were the pajamas that they were wearing, no shoes, just socks and a small baby, maybe 7 months old wearing only a diaper. I saw a lady come in asking for shoes because she had none. I had the pleasure of meeting a man that I just feel like I connected with. While I was holding my “door duty” position, there was a black man who appeared to be in his fifty or sixties that was standing and pacing outside the door where I was standing. I stepped outside and asked him if he was okay. He wasn’t, but said he was. You could tell he was scared. He was just trembling and he just looked lost. I asked his name and he was Mr. Donay. I am not sure of the spelling, but this is close enough. He did tell me that he lost everything. He just moved to Joplin about a year ago from Memphis. I tried to lighten the mood a little and joked with him some. I told him that Memphis still gets storms and occasional tornados. I was from outside of Baltimore. If we were going to have a bad storm, I had a few days’ notice that it was coming. He laughed and we just talked and talked. He was waiting for 2 other ladies that he came with that were still “shopping”. I asked him if he was hungry and he said no, then I realized I asked the wrong question. When I asked when the last meal he had was, he said “I don’t remember”. I told him no one would take the stuff he just shopped for, put it down, and let’s go eat. We had delicious pulled pork sandwiches. He told me that he was worried that the 2 ladies he came with wouldn’t find him. I told him good, they would have to go look for him, find him with food and get something to eat themselves. I held his hand and Thanked God for bringing him to us and for keeping him safe, and then we went to eat. I left him in the cafeteria and I went back to my post at the door. This was just one of the many people that I talked with, but Mr. Donay just really stuck with my heart.

I kept my post at the door for the rest of the day. When 4:00 came around, I knew I needed to head home to keep my promise to Chris that I would be there before things got ugly again. The skies were still blue. The power had been restored so I didn’t even need to stop and get any gas. I was glad. I did however take Range line Road to see the damage there. I know it wasn’t the hardest hit area, but it was still hit hard. Home Depot was no longer identifiable. Wal-Mart… the one that I was shopping in just a few hours before the storm was hit hard. Academy sports store was hardly recognizable. Walgreens, the new one, was gone. Burger King was gone… except for the play yard. That looked brand new! It was kind of out of place! JoAnn’s craft store, the strip mall where it is located was hit hard. It was a bit interesting to see. All of the windows on the storefront were gone. So were the insides and the back of the store. We could see the trees that were behind the building through the front windows. The sun was shining into the center of the store through the roof that was missing. There were smashed cars everywhere. They were all spray painted with a big X to mark they had been searched. Some of the vehicles were smashed bad enough that it was hard to decipher them as a car.

I came home and started on my cleaning. I felt refreshed since I was able to help some. Chris had to go back to work on Wednesday, and the weather was supposed to be nice, so I talked to Cailin and told her that I would like for us to go back to church and work again on Wednesday. She was excited that she was going to help others that lost everything too. When we got there, I first took the girls around the church to see everything that was donated to the church just 3 days after the storm. I told Cailin all this stuff she saw were called donations and it was people’s way to show love and to help those that got hurt and lost everything. After she saw everything, she responded with “Wow mom, this sure is a lot of love that is here in our church” She was right. We found Leslie Newenschwander working. She had her whole family with her, including Emma who is Malia’s age. We let all of the kids go into the library and play while the adults worked. The kids enjoyed Veggie Tales and other movies. I resumed my post at the door that I had the day before. I enjoyed giving people smiles, hugs and just trying to brighten their day. I helped someone carry a car seat out to their car. When I went to get one, I was shocked at the stack of boxes of brand new car seats that were donated!! On the way back into the church, I spotted a familiar face! Mr. Donay was back!! When he saw me, he got a smile and said “There’s my beautiful angel from God”. I guess he lost his glasses! Ha. Anyway, I got a big hug from him. He seemed to have a clearer head today. I asked him if he realized he forgot something or if he needed more of something else. He said “No ma’am, I brought some more friends. You were so nice to me yesterday I know you’d be just as nice to more people” He told me they were in shopping. I asked him if he got anything to eat. He told me he got some yesterday. I asked when he had his last meal and he told me here yesterday. I told him “Don’t make this food go to waste”. Get his bottom inside and go get some food. He had a sheepish look and said “Yes Ma’am”. Then he started gesturing to someone that was apparently waiting in the car. I kind of fussed at him but in a joking way. I asked if he was going to leave someone sitting out in the car waiting while he got a nice meal. Again, sheepish look. “No ma’am”. He got his friend and went in to eat a hot brisket sandwich this time. On the way to the cafeteria, I passed a mom and dad who were struggling with 4 young boys that all seemed stressed. The tallest of the 4 boys was still smaller than my Cailin, so I am assuming they were all 5 or younger. I introduced myself and let them know that I was there working. I let them know we had a wonderful cafeteria and I asked if it would be okay if I took their 4 boys to get something to eat while they finished shopping and then they could come and eat too. Mom looked more than relieved that I offered to help out. The boys and I went to eat and mom and dad finished their shopping. Then they came and ate too. I had two reasons for doing this. One, the kids were bored, tired, scared and needed a break. Two, if I took kids to go eat, mom and dad would have to come to the food area and make them get something to eat as well. This worked really well. I did this with 4 other families. I poked my head in to check on my girls and they were doing great, however, Malia told me “Momma, I be worker girl too”. She didn’t want to watch movies and play, she wanted to help. They got their shoes on and started following me to help. We stayed at door duty a bit longer and then we went to get lunch ourselves. After lunch, we went to the area where they were organizing work groups. We were given the job to explain how the groups would get started, then there was a shopping cart of loose gloves that we got to play matching games with. We started matching them up and sorted them by garden gloves, rubber gloves and work gloves. They were excited to help, but did more playing than helping. They loved trying on the gloves and on more than one occasion, Malia put them on and said “How me look”? It was a lot of fun and I was so glad that my girls got to help too. Around 4:30, they were getting tired and my tummy was hurting so we headed home. In the parking lot, we met a bull mastiff named Gracie that came with her dad from Arkansas. They were just up to help. The man said that his wife and kids were out of town and he wanted to help, so he loaded up his camper and brought he and his dog up to work. Gracie hung out in the truck while he was sorting and cleaning up debris. We talked for a while and thanked him for coming to help Joplin. Then time to head home. Both girls fell asleep on the way home.

It is now Friday, a week later. I have not been to church after those two days, but plan to go back starting Monday. We did go to the lake to get away from all of the storm stuff. We listened to the memorial service on the radio. The stupid people from Westboro Baptist church came to picket the memorial service. Really? This made me mad! I was happy to hear later that over 300 bikers came from across the country to keep them away and keep them from being heard. That was awesome. The president came to speak at the memorial service. While I really do not like the man, he was respectful and I don’t recall him saying anything stupid for a change.
Yesterday, June 1, 2011 the list of missing and unaccounted for finally reached ZERO. Only 10 days after the storm! With as much devastation as there was, 10 days is remarkable to get that taken care of! The death toll is at 138.

Laci and Quinn spent the night with us last night and we got news that Mom, Dad and Job were going to come home! They would go home in the morning.
After taking Laci and Quinn home this morning. Cailin asked if we could drive through more of Joplin to see things. Chris said that 20th street was open and passable, so we took a drive. I was just floored at the amount of devastation. It was unbelievable. We were not able to tell where we were because there are no road signs anymore and there are no landmarks to see. All of the piles of debris look just like all of the others. Some might have a smashed vehicle in the pile, some didn’t. Because you could not tell where you were, at every intersection, there were road names spray painted on the roads to let you know where you were.

Sometimes there was devastation as far as you could see. It wasn’t just minor stuff likes roofs missing shingles, I am talking about roofs missing, or buildings collapsed. Every house and every vehicle that was searched was spray painted with a large X. On each side of the X was a number. The number on the left hand side listed how many people were injured at that location when it was searched as well as the day that it was searched. The number on the right hand side listed how many people perished at this location. I was incredibly saddened when I would pass a house that marked 2 had died, or one had died. I let my girls see the destruction, but I did not explain the numbers we saw. I just told Cailin that the X’s meant that workers had searched those houses to make sure no one was in there. There are some things those fragile minds do not need to know. I made sure I told them that this was not a typical storm, or even a typical tornado. Tornados do a lot of damage, but this one was bigger than most. I also let them know that God was really looking out for us because we were safe. I love that Cailin thought to talk to God right then and there and thank him for keeping us safe and to protect those that need help. Again, such a sweet and loving heart. We drove to find our dance studio. It was just across the street from the high school so I knew it was gone, but I wanted to see how it looked. We had to watch the road to see where we were and where we needed to turn. The debris was off of the road, but the yards were a mess. We turned and could immediately see the hot pink painted bricks scattered on the ground. There were some items in front of the studio, but I am not sure how much would be salvageable. The wall between the office and waiting room were still standing, but that was all. It was devastating. McClelland Park was destroyed… except the playground. How bizarre! I told Chris we need to have some engineers do some research on why these playgrounds were able to withstand the storm and look brand new, and yet strong buildings were demolished. Use some of that information when building new houses and structures. It’s a good idea.

Once we came home, I got the girls lunch and my heart hurt so much that I just got the girls to nap and I napped with them. I just let myself shut down for a good 3 hours. There is so much devastation so much hurt, so much of a need in Joplin. I just decided that the best therapy I could have would be to write down everything that I could remember. This gets it out of my system and I can look back on it later. I took a LOT of photos of the area. They aren’t the best quality, but it is enough that you can see the damage. I fully plan on putting these pictures into an album to remember this horrific event that my family has survived and that has made me feel like a stronger person.

One other thing that I want to add to this… I am amazed at the sense of community. Everyone is helping everyone. No one is sitting around waiting to be helped; they are all out helping everyone else. Steve, one of Chris’s co-workers from EP, was working on his roof. He had a tree on the roof, but there were no holes, and there were a lot of people that had a lot more damage. A truck load of guys saw him working, pulled up and asked if he needed help. Steve said that he was okay, because there were people that needed a lot more help than he did. The four guys hopped out of the bed of the truck, chainsaws in hand and climbed the ladder to help out. Complete strangers! While Myra was in Kansas City with Job, someone delivered lots of food, someone else came and mowed their lawn, someone else helped clean her house, I kept the girls for 2 days… FHE representative in Kansas City found Myra and helped out in any way possible. Karen’s Dance studio is having a work day and asking parents to come help clean up stuff around the studio and sort trash. All of the families from HSN are checking on everyone else. There have been so many donations to Joplin that there is an overabundance and people are trying to find where to store it. Karen’s dance studio has had studios in Texas, California and Florida offer to come help. There is just so much of a sense of community. No one is sitting around waiting for help like you saw when Katrina struck. Because of this, I am pretty sure Joplin will be rebuilt a lot faster than New Orleans.
While this is such a tragic event, I have learned and I definitely feel truly blessed!!! I will hug my husband and kids a little tighter each night and make sure I do my best to show them how much I love them and how much they mean to me.

Small tidbit of humor to end my story. I saw a truck that the top half of the cab had been ripped off in the storm. Someone spray painted the truck on the bed. “4-sale, ½ off”. I saw the same for a house that was missing the top half with the same thing on it. Another car that was smashed up bad was painted “4 sale as is” At least there is still a sense of humor.
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That is what I had typed up not too long after the storm. It has now been 4 months. The official death toll from our tornado is up to 162. Heartbreaking! There were 6 Joplin schools that were either damaged or demolished. There are two grades that are having class at the Mall in Joplin. I heard a senior tell someone, "I'm going to be in the first graduating class of North Park Mall High School". News articles have been amazing. Heartbreaking, heartwarming, tear causing... all at the same time.

Extreme Mkeover Home Edition is going to come to Joplin. They are going to build 7 houses in 7 days. I volunteered to be a worker. I am super excited to get to help out more. At least they do not have to worry about the day of demolition for the show. that part is already taken care of. We have helped more at the distribution center which is still helping between 30-35 families each day. We have delived totes to families that have come through our distribution center. We have housed several workers. Some have even come back for return visits which I think is great.

When we first drove through Joplin with my kiddos, we would hear "that got hit, that got hit, that didn't get hit, that not get hit" depending on where we were and what my girls saw. Now when we go, we hear "that got hit, LOOK! that is rebuilt, they are working on this one, this is new". there was a 90 day hold on new buildings in order to get things cleaned up before there is more debris from the building process. It is a very slow process, but things are starting to get rebuilt. Walmart plans to be open by Black friday. Home Depot opened a "tent store" for the summer while they were building their new store. There is hopes that it will be done mid November as well. Walgreens and Chic-Fil-A opened in September, just a few days apart from each others. Macadoodles is starting to rebuild. Academy and the strip where JoAnn's was has been completly torn down. JoAnns is going to have a space in the mall permanantly, and Academy has plans to rebuild although it hasn't started yet.

The trees in Joplin make me laugh. I am not sure they are going to survive the winter, although I hope so. Our storm ended up being an F5 tornado. When it crossed near us (4 miles away), it was an F1. In joplin, trees have been stripped of their bark. The only part that the trees have are their trunks and primary branches. The secondary and tercherary branches are gone. They still leafed out though. The trunks were surrounded by green leaves since there were no branches to grow the leaves. The trees in front of the highschool that were ripped apart were treated to some chainsaw carvings. There are now several eagles carved out. Some perched, some with wings outstretched. The plan is to place these in the schools that were damaged by the tornado once they are rebuilt or repaired. The sign in front of Joplin High School lost the J, l, i and n. Someone took duct tape and made an H and E so it now says "Hope High School". It has been there since 2-3 days post tornado and now, 4 months later, it is still there.

Joplin still has a lot of hope. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, many houses and buisnesses need to be rebuilt, there are still lots that need to be cleared, but there is already a tremendous amount of work that has been done. It is amazing to see. It is awesome that we are still getting help from all over the country. Workers are coming from everywhere. United Arab Emerates donated enough to have all Joplin high school students to have laptops since the school doesn't have text books yet. All text books are loaded onto the computers.

This summer, the Kansas Ciy Chiefs players and front office workers came to joplin. They worked in the morning, and then in the afternoon, they had a meet/greet/ and visit time. It was great to see them throwing around a football with some local kids. Oh, forgot to mention, they all changed their jerseys. Instead of Kansas City Chiefs, their jerseys that day said "Joplin Chiefs".

While this was such a tragic storm and many people perished and many people lost so much, there is actually quilte a few really awesome stories that have come out of this as well.

I plan to post photos later, but please keep in mind, These photos do not do justice to actually being here and seeing everything first hand!

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