Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Piecing life back together in Joplin

Editor's note: It's been one month since an EF5 tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, killing 154 people and destroying most of the city. iReporter Cory Lebow shares his view of life in Joplin since that day.



There comes a time in everyone's life when they wonder, "Is this it? Is this my last day on Earth?" For some, it comes quietly in the night - peacefully, serenely, and expected.


For others, that moment seems to come way too soon - with the fury of 200 mile-per-hour winds hurling cars like pop cans, and shooting two-by-fours with terrifying speed and strength.


That was the reality for me and almost a quarter of our "Big Little City" as a tornado slammed into our southwest Missouri town. Huddled tight in a small walk-in freezer with co-workers, we seemed to be awaiting an inevitable fate as the lights went out, leaving the eight of us in eerie darkness. The cold air filling our lungs would usually leave us shivering and hurried to leave the small space, but as the twister bore down, it was the only possible shelter we had. The walls began to tear from the building, the ground shook, and all we could do was listen and wait.


The storm passed quickly, but there was no mistake what had just happened. Some say a tornado sounds like a handful of locomotives headed directly for you, but I heard something completely different - something primal and full of rage.


The roar that tore through Joplin, carving a 14 mile-long path, is now behind us, but our journey through the aftermath still feels like it's just begun. It's been a month since that fateful Sunday, but still we sleep on borrowed beds, and we continue to pick up the pieces of our ravaged lives.


But despite it all, we are taking our first steps forward towards a state of normalcy. Aid money, unemployment assistance, transportation and housing arrangements are all slowly falling into place. Job searches are underway, radio stations are back on the air, and curfews have been lifted. We are finally taking deep breaths, after what felt like years of wandering lost and destroyed.


As a night owl, I've found myself driving through Joplin in the earliest hours of morning when a serene calm falls over the path of destruction. Every few nights I go back into the streets and neighborhoods still disconnected from the rest of the city. The routine is slightly comforting as darkness covers the chaos that still litters the yards, parking lots, and houses. For just a few minutes, I'm able to pretend that nothing ever happened - I'm just headed home after a long day at work. It doesn't last, though, and the realization that things aren't even close to normal slams right back into me yet again.


Seeing just how close I came to death shakes me slightly, but I know that the difference of a few yards, or maybe a city block, was all it took to keep going. Some people may have felt a much more pronounced change in their lives, but for me this experience has only served to solidify my enjoyment in life. Far too often we forget that just a few feet can mean the difference between stopping to smell the roses, or always smelling daisies.


Today, life in Joplin is a matter of cleaning up, piecing our lives together, and looking ahead. The last month has been one giant rollercoaster. Some days are easier, but then others the stress weighs a bit too heavy. Slowly, though, the days are growing ever brighter. As I've heard from many others, "We will rebuild bigger and stronger than ever." Sooner or later, Joplin will be back - together.


-- CNN iReporter Cory Lebow

June 22, 2011
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NY Times just did a great pictoral story on what happened at Joplin.  Definitely check it out on their web site.

June 22, 2011
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Some folks from my area will be there this weekend with all sorts of skills, best of luck to you all, and you're right, it serves as a reminder what's really important.

June 22, 2011
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Fantastic iReport, Cory.  You're all in my thoughts.  Good luck with the rebuilding effort.

June 22, 2011
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I was there 2 weeks after the tornado with Helping Hands and was stunned with how fast this town is being cleaned up. All roads are clear. Thousands (essentially all) of fallen/damaged trees have been cut up and moved to the curb. The city will take a good 6 months to haul all of that rubble away, and some places are total losses waiting to be bolldozed, but clean up through most of the city is complete and they are shifting toward reconstruction of the direct path. Unemployment should be a very temporary problem because of how much money will flood this area. Insurance will be paying for new houses, cars, electronics, and furnishings. Great place to look for work right now.

June 22, 2011
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Indeed. A well written piece. Good Wishes to all in Joplin, MO with their future efforts.

June 22, 2011
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Thank you for the well-wishes and compliments, everyone. It means a lot to know so many people are bracing us when we still feel shaky.


@Floyd - It is amazing that everything is being cleaned so quickly, but we don't have to the benefit of just sitting around and feeling pity for ourselves. Much of the most important aspects of our economy were hit, and Joplin, as a whole, needs those businesses and buildings back up and in running order as quickly as possible.


I have a feeling with month two just beginning, we will start to see quite a bit of rebuilding within the heart of the disaster.

June 22, 2011
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June 22, 2011
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I also had the opportunity to witness the determination and strength of the people of Joplin when I was there working with the Red Cross.  Joplin will always have a special place in my heart!

June 22, 2011
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God Bless all the people.  We have not forgotten Joplin.

June 23, 2011
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I was there with CityReach 2 weeks ago (alongside helping hands) and we were cleaning up debris in a park. Now, that took forever, imagine how long it took to clean up in "the field". We drove through, and it's like nothing you've ever seen. It's NOTHING seeing these pictures on here, it's actually insulting if you think you've really seen it if you haven't been there. We worked with Calvary Baptist Church out there (Americorps did crap, the Red Cross were the only ones doing anything. We were told to go to Americorps and they put us to clean a campus that had already been 100% cleaned, they could've done better with 300 people) and got alot done.


God Bless Joplin.

June 23, 2011
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In response to FloydJohnson's comments, I have to make a huge correction. I was in Joplin last Saturday, I live in Springfield just up the highway, and the town is not even remotely close to having the debris cleaned up. There are gigantic areas of the town that still look like they have not been touched. Also, nowhere near all the trees and limbs have been cleaned up. I spent 8 hours on a chain saw cutting up felled trees in just one yard and can attest to how far away from being cleaned up the town is. In fact, laborers are only allowed to work on the front lawns of the homes. Back yards have yet to be begun at all. Make no mistake, Joplin will be cleaning up and recovering from this for many months and in some ways years. If you have the means to volunteer please do so. They will be needing outside help for a long time.

June 23, 2011
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Very nice Cory.

June 23, 2011
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Joplin has HUNDREDS of unclaimed pets. While some owners were likely killed in the storms, it would only account for a very small percentage of these unfortunate animals. It seems most of these beautiful creatures were owned by uncaring low-class trash.

Joplin is giving these animals away!!!  I can only pray they will not find themselves adopted under false pretenses and then sold to labs for a few bucks and used for experimentation.

If you are in the Joplin area, PLEASE consider rescuing one of God's creations.  Rescue them from their lousy original owners. Rescue them from the confines of crowded and frightening cages. Rescue them from exploitation by those who would sell them into laboratory torture.

These animals deserve care, respect and love. Are you willing?

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