Survivors Of Massive Tornado In Joplin Come Together To Rebuild

Tuesday, May 22nd 2012, 5:02 pm
By: News 9

Karl Torp, News 9

JOPLIN, Missouri -- Tuesday marks exactly one year to the day an EF-5 tornado cut through Joplin. One hundred and sixty one people died from that tornado.

Over the last 12 months, survivors have come together to remember, reflect and rebuild.

Just driving around Joplin, you really get the sense of how enormous a challenge rebuilding has become. It will no doubt take time, but this city is determined to bring Joplin back better than before.

Joplin Tornado Timeline

The pictures paint an unimaginable scene of destruction, a 13 miles long scar through Joplin three quarters of a mile wide in some spot. The tornado delivered a crippling shot to the city of 50,000.

Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean doesn't think it's a knock-out blow.

"Everyone is startling to realize, ‘I'm still here, so why don't I put my best foot forward and move on,'" the mayor said.

Driving down roads, you can clearly see the void left from those who have decided not to rebuild where their homes once stood.

Heather Marsh survived the storm, her home did not. But the Joplin mother who now lives with a family member. She said she is witnessing change.

"I drive through Joplin everyday and you see the progress every day. More homes and begin built and you feel like your home is coming back," Marsh said.

Marsh said she visits the sight of her old Joplin home to think about why she and her nine year old survived the tornado in the bathtub, while 161 lost their lives.

"I had a board across my neck and couldn't budge," Marsh said. "I thought for the first time in my life that I was it. I thank god everyday that we're alive because the way it all came down on us we shouldn't have been."

Marsh had next door neighbor who died, but she and her son escaped without a scratch. The emotional scars though remain a year later. Marsh tells us she is deathly afraid when it storms.

"I feel like I'm a little girl I'm scared of the dark like something out there is going to get you," Marsh said.

Her son Hayden shares the same fear, despite what he is reminded of.

"Sometimes it's just god moving furniture," Marsh said.

Marsh lost everything, her clothes, her son's toys, but there is one item she was able to retrieve. Two months after the tornado, she got a call from the dump that someone had found her wallet, an item she will keep forever.

It's not as cherished as the pictures of her son at five months. They were found by workers bulldozing what was left May 22, like Marsh and Hayden, the fame was also unscathed.

"I do suffer for depression every once in awhile but I think you are lucky to be here, you gotta go, gotta get up and live your life," Marsh said.

News 9 has learned more than 700 new home or re-build permits have been issued since May 22, along with more than 270 commercial rebuild permits.

The hospital that became a lasting image of Joplin's destruction is being replaced with a new 450 million facility. It opens in 2015.

And on the tornado anniversary, the Joplin school district breaks ground on four new schools, including a state of the art high school, challenges though are clearly visible, even away from the tornado's path of destruction.

FEMA set up 600 of these temporary trailers for families displaced from the story, complete with tornado shelters. We are told 40 percent of people living here have been able to move out, and move on.

We checked with the city of Joplin which says it has received just over 270 commercial rebuild permits since May 22 of last year