News

Survivors of the Joplin tornado share their stories

Updated: 2013-05-22T16:35:24Z

By LAURA BAUER, ERIC ADLER and DON BRADLEY

The Kansas City Star

JOPLIN, Mo. | The tornado took their homes, their cars, their belongings. Everything, in some cases, except their lives. Across the city, survivors spent Monday counting their blessings — and trying not to dwell too much on what they had lost.

‘At least we’re OK’

The tornado flattened the house at 2804 E. 16th St. where Margaret and William Mosley have lived since 1993 — except for one room.

It was in that room, a glassed-in porch, where the two spent Sunday night, worried that looters would slink in to take what little they had left.

Margaret, 73, slept Sunday night in a rocker, and William, 78, in a recliner.

They were able to get some photo albums Monday morning before a piece of metal cut William’s left wrist.

“The albums, that might not be much, but we have them,” said Margaret, whose glasses were ripped from her face by the winds. “At least we’re OK.”

She and William have been married 58 years. When the tornado hit, he covered her with his body to shield her.

Keeping track of the neighbors

When the rain started coming down and then hail, Jarod Stice told his fiancée, Jessica Bennett, to go get on some jeans and boots. The storm was coming.

“The skies were clear,” Stice said. “We had to have been in the eye of it.”

Then it hit.

They were on the west side of the house at 2420 S. Joplin Ave. when all the windows blew out. In the basement, they protected themselves with two pieces of plywood and a tarp.

It lasted about 20 seconds, Stice said. When the two crawled out of their basement, along with their dog Baloo, a few outside walls were the only thing left of the three-story brick house.

“I thought everybody was dead,” Bennett remembers thinking as she looked around South Joplin Avenue.

They helped neighbors get out. When they knew neighbors were safe, they painted their names on the brick walls still standing.

Cari and Phil

Larry and Amy

Mike and Madonna

Safe, but still searching

Amy Jump stood in front of her house at 2424 S. Joplin Ave. with tears rushing down her face Monday. She thought of her three kids, all safe now, who sat huddled in a corner Sunday evening with her and her husband, Larry. When the walls started shaking, she pulled a blanket over their heads.

By the time the roar outside stopped, their home of 10 years was gone, the walls caved in and almost everything blown away.

“When they say it sounds like a train, there’s no doubt about it,” Larry Jump said, ready to go back into the debris to find anything salvageable.

Amy was frantic to find her 5-year-old son’s stuffed brown and white dog, Waggle.

“He told me that’s the one thing he wanted,” she said, tears coming down again. “And I can’t find it.”

Picked up, slammed down

As search and rescue crews went from building to building along Main Street, 6-year-old Dallas Lee was near 24th and Main watching her mom, Trista, go through her dad’s Ford F-150, looking for his wallet.

“My sister has a big gash on her forehead,” Dallas said as she stood in a light rain, the hood of a pink sweatshirt covering her head. “And my brother has a big gash in his leg. … My dad’s in the hospital, too.”

Five members of the Lee family rode out the storm in the bed of their pickup. It’s now crumpled and twisted like a tin can, the windshield shattered, the doors bent in.

They were trying to get to a church where they heard there was shelter, but the church was locked.

“We didn’t know where the other shelters were,” Trista said. “I told my husband the safest place to be is at home.”

Before they could get there, the winds picked up their truck and slammed it to the ground.

‘We’re in tornado. I love you all’

Near the center of town, Garrett McKenzie, 21, was sitting with two friends in the IHOP at 20th Street and Range Line Road.

Another buddy called him on his cell, telling him the television radar was indicating that a tornado was possibly heading their way. But the friends had just ordered their food. So they waited.

A few minutes passed. The sky blackened. Debris began pelting the windows. Then all went black. Lights out.

The manager rushed everyone into the back of the restaurant, toward the kitchen. McKenzie and his friends Roger Burgett, 19, and Taylor Bond, 22, went to the bathroom.

The building began to shake.

In the few seconds before the building would come crashing down, all three took out their phones and texted their parents.

“We’re in tornado. I love you all,” Burgett texted.

Just before the windows blew out, McKenzie dove into the kitchen. His friends were in the bathroom.

The ceiling collapsed. People in the kitchen held tight. They hugged each other, they cried.

“I’m going to die today,” McKenzie thought.

But when the tornado roared on, he and his friends were fine.

Apartment building: Gone

Nathan Powell was at home in his apartment at 2120 Hampshire Terrace with his four children and little brother when they heard the tornado was on the ground.

He rounded up the children and thought they would try to get to a nearby church, but he knew they wouldn’t make it.

“I got them under a stairwell in the apartment building and then it hit,” Powell said.

Powell grabbed hold of all the children, and they clung tightly to one another. He said it lasted “maybe 45 seconds.”

The almost 200-mph wind “was a roar but not like a train, like they say,” Powell said. “It was more like a vacuum. I was holding on to the kids and they literally floated off the ground.

“They screamed, and the youngest girl vomited.”

When the wind stopped and Powell and the children came up from the stairwell, “it was all gone. The whole apartment building was gone,” he said.

Then Monday morning a thunderstorm hit Joplin — heavy rain and lightning and hail — and the kids screamed again, thinking the tornado had come back.

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