‘It’s Been a Long Road’: Tornado-Ravaged Joplin, One Year Later

May 22, 2012 3:55pm

On May 22, 2011, a single EF-5 tornado — the highest classification for a twister based on damage inflicted — cut a 6-mile-wide path through Joplin, Mo., killing more than 150 people and leveling homes, buildings and trees.

A year to the day after the mile-wide funnel cloud touched down, residents told ABC News that they were still picking up the pieces.

“It’s been chaos,” Amy Irvin said. “I mean just moving, you know, displaced for three months. You know hotels, different hotels, and with friends until the FEMA trailers got here.”

Irvin was at work when the tornado hit. Her two young children were home. They are now living in a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency while their home is being rebuilt.

“It’s been tough,” she said. “We’re ready to get this house done and get moved in. … We don’t have too many neighbors yet. We’re about the only one on the block.”

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 23, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 23, 2011, top; July 20, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom.  In the top photo, Laura Vanzant looks for her dog at her home that was destroyed by the tornado. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Dustey Howard said he experienced more tears than celebrations in the last year.

“It’s been a tragedy,” he said. “You know everywhere you look there’s nothing. There’s houses going back but you can never rebuild what you had before. … It’s been a long road.”

His wife, Amber, said she’d heard the tornado but had tried to convince herself that it was just the wind.

“My ears started popping and so I knew it was a tornado because you know your ears don’t do that in the wind,” she said.

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 23, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. In the top photo, Don Atteberry, 89, surveys the damage at his home. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 23, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. In the top photo, Anita Stokes salvages items from her home, which today stands cleared of much of the tornado debris. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 25, 2011, top; July 20, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. In the top photo, Beverly Winans hugs her daughter Debbie Surlin while salvaging items from Winans’ devastated home. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 27, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo taken with a fish-eye lens shows a scene taken on May 25, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. In the top photo, David Turner, from Waco, Texas, sorts through belongings in a house occupied by his two sisters in a neighborhood now mostly cleared of debris. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken May 28, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom. In the top photo, Patrick O’Banion salvages items from his devastated home in a neighborhood now mostly cleared of debris. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

 

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This three-photo combo shows a scene taken on May 27, 2011, top; July 21, 2011, center; and May 7, 2012, bottom.  In the top photo, Jim Goff carries salvaged items to his car. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Jess Younger said before the EF-5 tore through Joplin last year, twisters had mostly caused tree and roof damage. Younger said that in the last 12 months, she’d grown thankful and grateful for the friends and strangers who continued to check on her and her family.

“It’s just been amazing,” she said. “I can’t hardly put in in words all the help, stuff that I’ve had from people. It’s just been overwhelming.”

She said that despite the vacant land and the tearing down of “everything,” she felt hopeful.

“I think God’s got a purpose for me and that’s the reason I’m still alive,” Younger said.

Enjoli Francis in New York and Steve Osunsami in Joplin, Mo., contributed to this photo story.

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