Thursday, June 9, 2011

JOPLIN: The People, Day 1


Al Smith, 74, walks away from the site of his former home Thursday afternoon in Joplin, Mo. "It's just a catastrophe everywhere you look for miles," he said. "The stories you hear, the people — everybody here has been affected by this storm."


Joplin resident Cathe Letts rumages through a debris pile looking for some of her family heirlooms, photo albums and anything she can find. Within an hour, Letts was able to procure photos of her children, young photos of herself and some stuffed animals. Her grandmother's plate set was destroyed, as she found them in shambles. "A lifetime of memories turned to dust," she said. "I'm just happy to find anything that still looks like it did, even half as good as it did. I will cherish every photograph I find."


Karen Godfrey, left, looks back to her husband Ray and their bichon dog Camaro as they take her for a walk down Bird Street on Thursday in their neighborhood where the tornado hit. Their home was totaled, but the couple is determined to rebuild. "Well, one of these days we'll be back home. We'll be able to have a home again. It's a slow process, but I can't wait to be back in what feels like home."


A 29-year-old Springfield resident Shannon Tatum, second from right, pushes an office chair Thursday at East Joplin Middle School amidst a group of volunteers from James River Assembly of God who have come to clean, remove debris and help bring order to Joplin, Mo. "It means everything to these people, and to be able to help them," she said. "A lot of my family lives here, so I flew in from Thailand as soon as I heard the news. It's different when it's your city, you know? When we clean, we find pictures of children and families, their snacks their moms packed for lunch for the next day. Teachers, students — these are people's lives. All of the piece we move mean something to someone. Never forget that."


Joplin resident Jim Wills, 69, stands in his kitchen, hands on his hips, with a solemn face Thursday as he looks upon a house torn apart by the multiple-vortex tornado on May 22 that struck a six-mile stretch, killing 151 as of June 9. He and his wife rode out the storm in the bathtub of their home at 2025 S. Duquesne Road. "This is just one helluva mess," he said, "but thank God me and my wife made it out alive. As I look at this, sifting through the wreckage that was once my house, I just can't believe we survived. Our neighbor died. We were lucky to not have the same fortune."


Larry Clark, 61, stands in the living room of his home at 4404 E. 20th Ave. as he looks around for belongings Thursday almost three weeks after the tornado initially struck a six-mile path in Joplin, Mo. "I was shoeless in the closet of my bedroom when it hit," he said. "I didn't think it was going to be this bad, this big. I shrugged it off, and I wish I hadn't. I regret that, but as I sat there, I prayed. I prayed out loud for our dear Lord to save me. As the storm neared, it sounded like the huge footsteps of a giant, tumbling closer and closer to me. I thought I was dead. At one point, I heard this huge suction, and I swear, I was being brought up to heaven. It was the worst 10 minutes of my life, but God saved me."

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