[[re-post]]:: REMEMBERING:: the joplin Tornado
5 years. That's how long it's been...
It seems like it was 20 years ago. And like it was yesterday. It's a strange feeling, to be sure. And I still have such a mix of emotions about it- pride in our exceptionally resilient community, sadness over those we lost (we should've lost thousands, but the 161 were painful enough), thankfulness that my wife, kids and I weren't in our home when a semi trailer ripped through our living room.
Most of all, I'm thankful for a sharpened faith and a reminder of what's really important.
I could talk about this for awhile, but if you're going back through images, videos, facebook posts and more today- I'm sure many others have said it all far better than I ever could. So I'll go back through the story with the method that's most natural to me. Photographs.
In 2011, I waited until a month after the tornado itself to pull out a camera to capture the aftermath. When I did, I wanted to show the complexity of it; the humor, sadness, starkness, hope, and community. Here's some of those images, my effort to capture what it was like. Not just 'what was it like to live through the tornado'- but more, what it was like to live in the community in the months that followed.
I had the opportunity to photograph several other victims of the tornado. Some I knew. A couple I photographed for publications that wanted to feature survivors and how they'd handled everything. I dedicated an entire 'photobooth' (something I do monthly in Joplin) to portraits of folks holding signs of hope, many of whom were survivors. One family I shot for "Extreme Home Makeover", the week the popular TV show donated 6 homes to local families.
This first gentleman stands out to me- I came across him early one morning. He was in the scooter due to the injuries sustained from protecting his wife during the tornado (he forced her into a bathroom when she refused to take shelter and then shielded her from debris). He was only at this house on this particular morning bc they were going to demo it later that day and he 'wanted to see it go'.
There were so many odd signs & messages in the debris. Some give an indication of the immediate danger of the event- the giant 'X's' meant the homes had been checked for survivors and there was no-one in them. Some things were surreal, like the car spray painted as an advertisement for the free food & water being given to volunteers and survivors. Some of the spray painted warnings showed how folks didn't know how to respond, fearful the little they had left in the rubble would be stolen (and the threat of looters was very real). And sometimes, people left more subtle signs of hope or humor to help themselves and others get through it with a smile. ('room for rent' is probably my favorite).
Over 182,000 people volunteered. Over 1.5 million hours. I can't even wrap my head around it. That's still one of the things that I will most remember; what people gave of their time, money and resources to get families like mine back on their feet.
It's especially personal for me; an infinite amount of gift cards, cash donations, trailer loads of goods brought, and many hours given sorting through rubble- and that was just for one family (mine). I even had competitors loan me their cameras so I could continue shooting in the weeks afterward, while others raised money online to buy me a new camera so my business could keep on running. That wave of goodness still seems more incredible in a positive way than the negative nature of one of our nations' most destructive tornadoes to date.
This gallery opens with volunteers from "Misti's Mission"- my 3 sisters on a mountain of bottled water on the left, Misti herself on the right. And this section ends with a young man named Elijah, whose volunteer service was patrolling his aunt's neighborhood at 6am, watching for looters (I was asked for an ID to verify myself). He didn't have shoes or a home, nor would he let me buy him footwear, but that didn't stop him from doing the job he'd taken upon himself to protect the area in his own way.
The final gallery shows some images a little further removed from the event.. the moment at which the rubble began to be cleared, rebuilding began to take place, and people began to find ways to respond through art (many murals and sculptures popped up in the years after).