Over my Christmas break, I was able to go home to Missiouri for three weeks. This was my first time back in Missouri since Christmas 2010, and my first time to see Joplin since the May 22, 2011 tornado. The first thing I did when I arrived was drive through Joplin. I did not even go home first! I had to see what had happened to the city I knew so well. I was very surprised by what I saw. The debris had been removed and the rebuilding process was well on its way. Down every street there were new houses, reopened businesses and busy construction workers. It was a far cry from the images and live video I watched last May. It was great to see how the community had come together to clean-up and rebuild.
What is most shocking when visiting Joplin is the clear path of the tornado through town. Despite the rebuilding, the absence of trees and houses down most streets between 26th and 14th Streets is eerie. While in Joplin, I visited a number of the familiar sites: Joplin High School, which is currently being torn down, St. John’s Hospital, which is now being torn down, and the homes built by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (you can watch the Joplin episode here). I visited Cunningham Park and the memorials that have built within the park remember those who died and those who volunteered to clean-up the city.
I took a number of pictures and some of them are in the slide show at the bottom of this post. However, the two images below, I think, are the most important because they best illustrate the devastation. The fist image is from Google Street view showing 20th Street before the tornado. The second image I took looking down 20th Street on January 2, 2012. The difference is astounding.
What was most rewarding about visting Joplin was to see first hand that Joplin is recovering. Everyday there is news of businesses reopening and families returning to new homes. Joplin is not done rebuilding, but after visiting Joplin myself, I am happy to report that the city is well on its way to recovery.
UPDATE: Be sure to read the comment below from one of the volunteers who helped construct the playground equipment pictured in Cunningham Park. He also included a link to a behind-the-scenes video of the construction of this equipment. It is volunteers like him who have helped ensure Joplin’s recovery.