Joplin survivors recount the night of the tornado
If it weren’t for the forecasts and the radar showing patches of red moving toward the Joplin area, it may have seemed like a cruel joke.
On Wednesday evening — on May 22, the day no one in southwest Missouri forgets — tornado warnings went out and sirens sounded, alerting people in and around Joplin to head for shelter. They needed to brace themselves for severe weather, meteorologists urged. Possible tornadoes.
“It’s happening again,” one man wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. “Just like eight years ago ... .”
Tweeted another: “Cripes! Today of all days.”
The tornado and devastation missed Joplin this time. But it hit Carl Junction, less than 10 miles away, and caused damage in areas north and east of there, including in Golden City, where three people died.
As for Joplin, no one there could escape memories from eight years ago when on a Sunday evening an EF5 tornado destroyed one-third of the town and killed 161 people, at least 13 of them children. After the tornado, one of the worst in history, some 7,500 homes lay in mounds of twisted debris that stretched six miles. The 200-mph winds had destroyed 17,000 trees and tossed and bent thousands of cars and trucks, along with fire engines and helicopters. One of the area’s two main hospitals took a direct hit.
“Everyone was a little on edge when the forecast came in,” said Lynn Onstot, Joplin’s public information officer, Thursday morning. “That increased the anxiety for all of us.”
Onstot was a key figure in the days after the 2011 tornado. And she admits that since that day, many in the southwest Missouri town are “a little apprehensive” during this time of year.
“I think every one of us has weather apps on our phones now,” Onstot said.
On Wednesday, Onstot said the city of Joplin offered both fire and police “mutual aid” to nearby damaged cities, but she was unlcear as of Thursday morning whether the cities accepted or the nature of that aid.
Just after the storm in 2011, many in southwest Missouri got news updates and word about loved ones and shelters from Facebook and Joplin Tornado Info. On Wednesday, organizers flooded the page throughout the day with news about the weather, regular forecasts and other guidance.
“With potentially bad weather on the 8th Anniversary of the Joplin tornado many of us are experiencing anxiety and/or PTSD,” read the post at 5 p.m. Wednesday. “If you need someone to talk to contact Disaster Distress helpline 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. “
An hour later, the site updated information about shelters opening at schools and told people where they could go.
“Stay safe this evening!”
Across Jasper and Barton counties people headed to their shelters and basements or invited friends, via Facebook, to come over. After the storm passed, many posted on social media, alerting family and friends they were safe. Just like they did eight years ago.
Before midnight Wednesday, another tornado had touched down in Missouri. This time, Jefferson City took a direct hit with destruction along Highway 54 and injuries — but no fatalities — reported. People filled social media with photos and videos and prayers for those affected.
Thursday morning someone posted a video on Twitter from the damage in Missouri’s capital city with a message:
“Such a sad way to remember Joplin’s anniversary!”