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Tornado Disaster in Joplin, Missouri

May 22.. 2011

First on the scene after a devastating EF-5 tornado rips through town

An intense and sobering day.

Today was day one of tour 2 for Cloud 9 Tours and we managed to get our new group up to the Joplin storm which was really starting to wind up and spin as we approached it on I-44. An incredible hook appeared on radar along with an intense debris ball. It was obvious that a major tornado was going through town. We were in the backside of the hook as it crossed the highway and we timed our speed so that it would cross just ahead of us at mile marker 11. We were about 2 minutes or so behind it when we came across the damage path. At least a dozen 18-wheelers were flipped over and other cars were damaged. We were the first on the scene so we switched out of chaser mode into first responder mode. Several of us (Including storm chasing doctors Jason Persoff and Robert Balogh who just happened to be there too) got out and we started searching the flipped vehicles. I found 2 truckers in flipped rigs who were scared and in shock, but for the most part, were OK. It was still pouring rain and lightning was crashing around
 us.

Michael Ratliff, who is driving  a 4th vehicle for us this tour In the got caught up in helping out and in all the confusion, he and the rest of his passengers got separated from us and took one of the more seriously injured motorists to the one hospital in Joplin that was not destroyed. They described driving through what looked like a war zone with the walking wounded arriving at the hospital on foot, covered in mud and blood. One of our tour guests even wound up consoling a woman whose mother had just died in the tornado moments ago, her body resting covered nearby. Parents were carrying injured kids to the triage area because most of the roads were impassable.

We never did see the actual tornado because it was so wrapped up in rain as we approached it from the west.

I'm very proud of everyone in the Cloud 9 team today. We all kept our cool and were able to help out when tragedy struck. At the time, we didn't know that the tornado was an EF-5 (The highest ranking) nor did we fully understand the full extent of the casualties and damage in Joplin.

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One of the overturned trucks on Interstate 44 in Joplin, moments after the tornado passed.

A radar image of the storm while it was producing the tornado in Joplin. The appendage at the bottom is the ball of debris being picked up by the radar beam.

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Our team pulls over on I-44 and start to lend help

Myself (in yellow) running across the highway to help with several flipped trucks.

 

 

 

The aftermath... One month after the EF-5 tornado and Joplin is still the scene of complete devastation.

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Look at the frame of this truck. It was completely bent around something, perhaps a tree.

A piece of wood high up on the side of a building, embedded in the wall.

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A month after the storm, the heavy machinery operators are working overtime.

Many of the trees had all their bark stripped of and many had metal objects wrapped around them.

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I don't think this boat will ever be back on the water again. In the background, the hospital that took a direct hit, St. Johns Regional Medical Center.

A lone rubber boot lies on the concrete slab of what used to be a house.

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Large pieces of wood impaling the side of a house. During the EF-5 tornado, this city must've been like the inside of a blender.

The St. Johns Regional Medical Center.

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They say to hide in the bathroom if you don't have a basement. Well, in a tornado that's this large & strong, even the bathroom is not a completely safe place to be.

Stop signs and trees were pushed over all across town.

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A well constructed building that has taken severe damage from the tornado

The impacts of thousands of pieces of random debris can be seen in the siding of this house. It was as if it had been hit by a giant shotgun.

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Demolished church with American flag.

A neighborhood watch sign. Unfortunately, that neighborhood no longer exists.

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It was complete destruction as far as the eye could see, in every direction.

The Joplin tornado was like the Greensburg, Kansas EF-5 tornado, but on steroids. The damage path was MUCH larger.

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A flipped car. Look closely and you'll see a pipe embedded in the rear bumper of the car.

Yet another flipped car in another leveled neighborhood.

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I like to look for these small details in the chaos. Someone has placed a "Home Sweet Home" figurine on an overturned vehicle.

I don't think this piano will ever play another tune again.

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During the tornado, vehicles were tossed around like toys.

"Closed for inventory, back @ 1:00"

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How can the wind curl a metal sign like this?!!... Unbelievable!!

Teams of volunteers have descended upon Joplin, helping out however they can.

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Looking out across what's left of the town... A scene of utter destruction.

Bent bicycle wheel and wrecked car.

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"Thank you volunteers. We love you. You are our heroes"

This used to be an R.V.

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One of many American flags that have been hoisted around the damage path.

Part of a sheet of plywood stuck in the side of a house.

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Don't bother to open the windows before a tornado, the storm will open them for you... With plenty of flying debris.

Countless toys were piled underneath mountains of debris & rubble.

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Many residents use their religious faith to help them through this very difficult period.

Because the tornado swept away most of the street signs, the street names have been spray painted on the roads.

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This large piece of iron was embedded into the tree so far, that I could not pull it out, no matter how hard I tried.

An amazing example of the power of the wind. A door hinge deeply embedded in the side of a very solid tree trunk.

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A tribute to some of those lost in the storm.

More devastation. This level of destruction went on & on...

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"For sale" "All alive and well"

A message for lost loved ones.

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"Loot, will shoot" A warning to any potential thieves in the area.

Trees stripped of their branches, wrecked homes and flipped cars. This was the scene for block after block after block.

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Glancing around, this was all there was to be seen.

Metal stuck in the side of a tree.

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This is why cars are not a safe place during a tornado.

A strong wind whips up the dust in Joplin.

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The local high school.

The chapel at the high school. The steeple has been toppled.

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"What comes around, goes around so be careful what you do. Looters will be shot"

This basketball hoop was not just blown over, it was completely pulled from the ground!

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A small toy memento, placed on a shredded tree.

Concrete cinder blocks were tossed onto this car by the tornado.

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An old photograph lies amongst the debris. The whereabouts of the people in the portraits is unknown.

Wrecking crews tear down house after house.

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A stop sign ripped from the ground.

Wooden boards impaling the roof of a house.

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Loot 'n I'll shoot. This sentiment was seen in numerous places around town.

The inside of a car that felt the brunt of the tornado. I would not want to be in there when it happened

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A close look at an old portrait in the rubble. Were they long deceased or were they in town during the storm? I'll never know the answer.