It’s tornado season here in the midwest. And, boy, do we know tornadoes.
I live in Joplin, Missouri, It’s been eight years since an EF-5 multiple-vortex tornado nearly eradicated everything in it’s path from the west side of town to the east. Winds exceeded 200 mph, topping around 250 mph. The tornado, spanning 16 consecutive football fields in width, was on the ground for an excruciating 38 minutes, leaving 22 miles of devastation in its wake.
Any trees left standing were completely debarked. Vehicles were carried such a distance and were so mangled that many owners never found their vehicles or even a trace of them. Medical records were located over 60 miles to the east in Springfield, Missouri. A wooden plank completely speared a concrete curb. A boat was unrecognizable, wrapped around the top of a tree like paper. Manhole covers were missing all over town. Twenty-one fatalities occurred in one nursing home alone.
At the time, I was 31 years old and had lived in Joplin for all 31 of them. As I made my way through town to discover the fate of my home, I became disoriented without street signs and landmarks. There was splintered wood and unrecognizable pieces of Joplin tossed all around me. People were wandering aimlessly like zombies.
The Hard Stuff
The monetary damage topped $3 billion. Around 7,000 homes were completely destroyed. Another 900 were damaged. Five hundred businesses were taken out. Nearly 1,200 people were injured and 161 people lost their lives as a result of that terrible day.
One-third of Joplin was virtually destroyed. It was catastrophic for my town.
At the time of the tornado, I worked as a crime analyst for Joplin Police Department. My typical duties consisted of tracking crime in Joplin, using statistics and mapping to predict crime, and assisting detectives with their cases.
My job those first several days after the tornado was to sit inside DMORT’s (Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team) trailer and catalogue every lost life with names, locations where they were discovered, physical descriptions, clothing, and other such information.
As a crime analyst who normally sat behind a computer in an office, I was ill prepared for many of the tasks that followed that harrowing May 22, 2011 day. We were all ill prepared. I mean, how many times does a tornado of that magnitude rip through a community packed full of so many lives?
There is no community that can adequately prepare for such an anomaly. Of all the places in the world, Joplin is now very likely one of the most prepared places for a tornado of that magnitude. And yet no amount of preparation, planning, or equipment can stop a natural disaster from wreaking it’s havoc and chaos.
I am a planner in pretty well every aspect of my life. I’m very good at it too. But sometimes, as we all well know, things don’t always go as planned.
However, how we choose to respond to those unexpected twists and turns is often what makes us or breaks us.
The people of Joplin could’ve easily raised our hands in surrender, thrown in the towel, and moved on to another thriving town with less hardship and not such a steep uphill climb. But instead we stayed. We rebuilt. We thrived.
For those of us who stayed, our roots are deeper, our faith in humanity is stronger, and our community is tighter.
If you’re up against hard times, facing an all-out disaster, or things just aren’t going as planned, here are a few lessons I personally learned from that mammoth tornado that wiped out 1/3 of my hometown and a hope that seemed so far out of reach for those of us who survived:
All hope is not lost. Hope is bigger than EF-5 tornadoes. Hope is bigger than school shootings. Hope is bigger than the crimes we call “senseless” and the people we call “monsters”.
Every man is not an island. We cannot survive on our own. We must ask for help when we need it and we must accept help, even when we haven’t reached out for it.
The heart of everything is people. People matter. Possessions, money, rank, job title, reputation all take a backseat to people.
It’s not okay to give up. Face only the day you’re living right now. Let tomorrow worry about itself. What’s going to happen is going to happen whether you make time to worry and fret about it or not. One day at a time.
Find someone to talk to. Your mom, a friend, a shrink, a total stranger. If you can’t speak it, write it.
Roll with the punches whether it comes naturally to you or not. Sometimes, you have no other choice.
Don’t stop planning/dreaming/living just because you failed to predict this thing in your way. The same goes even if it’s your own fault that this thing is in your way.
Accept that those around you don’t handle things the same way you do. Then take it a step further and help those around you. Someone is always in worse shape than you are.
New Hope Investigations was founded to literally bring new hope to those who have lost their hope. If things haven’t gone as planned for you and you’ve found yourself in need of a private investigator who cares, we certainly do.