What does Joplin look like five years after the EF5 tornado?
Leona Rice was in church when the 2011 Joplin tornado descended with hellish winds, smashing the building to splinters, shearing off her left leg and killing four of her church-going friends.
On Wednesday, eight years later to the day, Rice, 74, was in church again, this time in her nearby hometown of Carl Junction, Missouri, when the tornado warning sounded. Again, a twister approached.
“There was one of the ladies who was there at the church,” at the Carl Junction First Assembly of God, Rice said Thursday. “She didn’t do well at all. She was just a basket case. She said, ‘I’m just about to lose it.’”
Not Rice, who on May 22, 2011, found her limb ripped off, hanging by tissue, after it was wedged in a drain at Joplin Full Gospel Church, at 20th Street and Michigan Avenue.
“Oh, sister,” Rice recalled her rescuer saying, “you’ve lost your leg.”
On Wednesday, she stayed calm.
“I don’t know,” Rice said Thursday morning. “Maybe I’m a little weird. I just feel like it’s in God’s hands. Whatever will be will be.”
Not far off, Wednesday’s twister swept through town.
“If I had a good arm and a stone, I probably could have hit it,” she said. The system would soon kill three people more than 40 miles northeast in Golden City.
During the Joplin tornado, Rice’s son stayed at her side. She’s convinced God did the same, leaving her with one leg and her life for whatever those divine reasons might be.
“You can take it for what it’s worth,” Rice had said in 2011. “My feeling is God stopped it (the bleeding of her right leg) and said, ‘No. No, keep that right leg intact. We’re not going to let it happen to her.’ I believe God took care of me.”
Wednesday’s winds did not weaken that resolve.
“I can only do so much,” she said. “And pray is the main thing. That’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t know. A couple of years ago when it was storming bad — I make quilts for people; one of my bedrooms is filled with craft materials and fabrics — I prayed, ‘Lord, you are the one who allowed me to have all of this. And if you want to take it away, it’s yours to do. But if you see fit, I would appreciate it if you will protect me and my house so I wouldn’t lose all of this.’”
At her Carl Junction home, just north of Joplin, Rice does not have a tornado shelter. When the winds rage, she tucks herself into an alcove.
“I just go in there and close all the doors and sit there and pray and know that God has control of it all,” she said.
After the Joplin tornado, Rice had hoped to keep her job as a school bus driver. With her leg gone, she couldn’t. The school district instead found jobs for her in the lunchroom and as a school secretary, until she retired a couple of years ago.
“It’s in God’s hands,” Rice said.