Joplin: One Year After
This week will mark the one year anniversary of the Joplin tornado. On Sunday May 22 of last year a EF-5 tornado twisted through Joplin at 5:41 in the evening.
161 people died from the storm, making it the 7th deadliest tornado in our nation's history.
"It was a nightmare I just kept hoping and praying that by a miracle we would find him in one of the area hospitals," says Irma Hampton.
"I wasn't sure what I was looking at I mean I knew where I was," says High School Principal Dr. Kerry Sachetta.
"I saw people being carried on doors, I saw people piled up in the back of pickup trucks, you name it you saw it that night," says Mark Rohr, Joplin City Manager.
Joplin, the name forever connected to one of the deadliest twisters in our lifetime. Those living there survived a page in history, but to them it's no memory its still very real and very alive. May 22, 2011...
"He said "'We've had a bad storm you better get into the city,'" Rohr remembers being told by the Fire Chief to head to the city. "I don't know I didn't really know, I had no idea it was as bad as it was, but I knew from his voice that he needed me in the city."
Rohr headed into Joplin just minutes after the storm hit and immediately he went into search and rescue mode, first stopping at a church.
"We went over there and did what we could there," Rohr says between long pauses. "It was bad...just about everything you could think of was going on there."
He said he helped pull people from the rubble, some he didn't even know if they were alive.
"You think about it everyday," he says. There were a lot of heroes that night you just did what you had to do."
We've all seen the pictures, houses wiped clean off their foundations, people walking aimlessly and emergency trucks frantically heading from one block to the next.
161 people lost their lives, leaving 161 families to grieve.
"It took the truck about a quarter of a mile before it went down and my son apparently was killed instantly," says Hampton.
She buried her 44 year old son almost a year ago. He and his family were in a vehicle when the tornado found them and threw the pickup like a rag doll.
"I'm still having a problem I have days that I know that my son would want me to go on he was the only son I had," she says.
Every week she comes here to visit her son, Jesse McKee.
"I just hold on to the hope that I'm going to see him again before long," she says.
A concrete block sits in the middle of Cunningham Park, flowers frame the structure that lists the names of those killed. The park has become hallowed ground.
Rohr says it's the point that the tornado went from an EF4 to an EF5.
Just one year ago the park was littered pieces of neighborhood, now it's a place to gather, to remember and to play.
It marks the rebirth of a town in transition.
"It's inevitable that you are going to hear that and probably will hear that for awhile," says Rohr about the sounds of construction. "That's our future that you are hearing."
The once barren landscape is now sprinkled with new homes. Life is moving on and those that live there say they will build, bigger and better.
The signs of hope are everywhere in Joplin.
The storm took out 7,500 homes but the Rohr tells us that more than two-thirds of them already have pending permits.
We will be in Joplin both Monday and Tuesday bringing you the latest on President Obama's commencement speech at the high school graduation and Tuesday during the anniversary "Walk of Unity".