Joplin, Mo., Students Return to School Three Months After Deadly Tornado

School doors open in Joplin, Mo., three months after deadly tornado.

ByABC News
August 17, 2011, 8:34 AM

Aug. 17, 2011 -- For a town desperately seeking a return to some sense of normalcy, the ringing of school bells is more welcome than even the high-tech gifts being handed to many of Joplin's students on their first day back in school.

"You can judge a community by the way it takes care of its kids," said C.J. Huff, a Joplin schools superintendent. "We take care of our kids. Every student in ninth- through 12th-grade will have a computer on their first day."

Huff is somewhat of a hero in this Missouri town, which is still coping from the aftermath of one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S history. The twister obliterated a third of the community and killed 160 people in a matter of minutes.

Two days after the May storm, he promised that school would be back in session Aug. 17 as originally scheduled, despite the destruction or damage to the main high school and nine other schools.

"Did you think this would be possible three months ago," ABC News' David Muir asked? "Yes," Huff said emphatically.

In one former school-turned-makeshift warehouse, you find a clue as to how this community, where many thriving neighborhoods are now literally clean slates with mere concrete foundations splattered across the landscape, was able to bounce back. Inside one room there are gifts both large and small, such as shoes, shirts and cards that have encouraging messages to hope. One card reads, "For a special boy, I made this outfit for you. I hope you enjoy it. I'm praying for you, love Carol in Texas."

The laptops, which were donated by a generous gift from the United Arab Emirates, will greet each high school student when they return to their school, which was once a department store in a local mall.