I know by writing this I’m not going to be telling anyone anything they didn’t already know. Instead, this is more catharsis and therapy than anything for me.
Today is Wednesday, June 8. I decided to head down south and visit Joplin – a town I called home for three summers, while working and living there. My mom still lives in Webb City and this was the first time I had a chance to see her.
It was also the first time I had seen the town in nearly two years. And what I saw broke my heart.
No words I use can describe the destruction that – more than two weeks later – people are still digging out of.
No picture can give you an accurate detail of how wide and far the path of destruction is. For people in KC, picture a tornado that damaged the Westport area and the area around Crown Center. That’s a bit bigger than this path, but the analogy holds. There are areas in completely different parts of town that were completely destroyed – as well as everything in between.
My first thought when driving around was, “how did only 150 or so people lose their lives?” I’m not saying that callously, but in awe. Drive around the town for 20 minutes. Look at all the homes, businesses, schools, that are destroyed. Not damaged, destroyed. It’s going to take an army of volunteers at least two months to get rid of the debris.
Then the rebuilding has to happen.
This may sound like a cliche now, but there were times while driving around – a town I used to know pretty well by the way – where I had no idea where I was. Street names are spray painted on the pavement to give people some idea of where they are. People took plywood and spray-painted their addresses outside of their homes – regardless of whether it was standing.
One sight that about made me break down was seeing signs in front of homes with addresses and “all safe,” ways for people to let friends and family know they were all OK and accounted for in the aftermath of the storm.
I heard stories of people going house to house, climbing over debris, trying to find people. You see the spray-painted X’s on each house, signifying that it’s been searched. Cars are strewn about still, again with the omnipresent X’s or a “K9″ showing that a police dog had helped with the search.
Joplin will rebuild. But it will take time. It will take years. In fact, it will take at least two years before the Joplin School District is able to rebuild three buildings that are being completely leveled – including the high school and a middle school that opened less than two years ago.
I have no idea when things will return to “normal” here. I’m not sure if it ever will. I just know that driving around this town will break your heart. Watching the courage and spirit of the Joplin residents and all of the volunteers – driving down one street there were countless areas providing free food and water for those in need and those helping – will raise your spirits.
We talked to a sheriff from Franklin County while picking up some of my mother’s belongings from her school. He said his job is one that normally shows him only the negative side of people, but coming to Joplin showed him how good people can truly be.
My heart is with these people who have lost everything. As I said, Joplin will rebuild. It may take quite a while. I’m just not sure if it will ever be the same.