Missouri has really been slammed by storms—first Joplin and then my hometown, Sedalia. When the tornado sirens sounded in Sedalia and the ominous words, “Tornado on the ground!” were broadcast on the radio, my mind immediately visualized Joplin. The Joplin tornado hit Sunday and like most people, I watched the story unfold on TV. In Joplin, an F-5 tornado splintered lives and left behind a scene from a horror movie.
I knew people in Joplin through Missouri Writers Guild and Business Women of Missouri, and I worried about their safety. At the BWM Conference in late April, two of the women from Joplin told me they had seen the announcement of the presentation I was making at the June 24 Alzheimer’s Caregiver Conference in Joplin.
My friends were safe, but more than 130 people lost their lives. Among the dead were ten residents of Greenbriar nursing home. One of the dead at the nursing home, 70-year-old Richard Elmore had Alzheimer’s disease according to his stepdaughter. The Greenbriar staff was praised for moving the residents to a hallway in the few minutes warning they had.
I’ve seen nursing home staff in action during tornado warnings. One night while I was at the nursing home where Jim lived, the sirens sounded and staff in the dementia unit led people into the hallway and seated them. I pushed Jim into the hallway in his recliner. He seemed unconcerned about the chaos around him as other residents moved up and down the hall and tried to get back into their rooms. Our town had been hit hard by tornados in the 1970s and those of us who remembered those storms were a little nervous. The staff passed out ice cream and the residents settled down to enjoy their treat. The storm passed over without any damage.
Jim had never been scared of storms and had a ringside seat to the 1977 tornado that hit Sedalia. Jim worked at Memorial Park Cemetery and rather that go into the metal building, he parked his truck in the cemetery. His reasoning was that if the tornado got close, he would be safer in the open grave he had prepared for an afternoon funeral. He was too close to the tornado to see the funnel, but he could see the houses across the street exploding. “Okay,” I questioned him later, “just what did you consider bad enough to get into the grave if you didn’t do it when the tornado was just across the street from you?”
“You know, after Vietnam, I just can’t get too excited about storms,” he said. Sedalia looked like it had been bombed, but no lives were lost.
The tornado that hit Sedalia on Wednesday, May 25, destroyed 65 homes, wiped out businesses along 65 Highway, and severely businesses on the south side of town. So much debris rained down on the city and surrounding farmland that lost-and-found centers have been set up to reunite people with belongings swept up in the tornado.
My first glimpse of the damage was on my computer screen at work where I viewed a video taken from the Channel 9 helicopter. My co-workers and I tried to identify businesses and mobile home parks that were in shambles. Semis were tossed onto their sides, highline poles snapped with transformers on the ground, trees broken and flung onto cars, the school bus barn collapsed, and homes were dissected exposing furniture and insulation.
Storm stories have been shared through interviews and social media. Hundreds of photos and videos are available on Facebook and YouTube. I don’t recall ever seeing so many people I personally know on the news. Considering the path of destruction, we were fortunate—no deaths and, thankfully, only minor injuries.
This morning I thought about a Waylon Jennings/Jessi Coulter song Jim used to sing— “Storms Never Last Do They Baby?” The song is a love song about a stormy relationship compared to the storms that disrupt life. Those storms can be tornados or other severe storms, or they can be the turbulence that creates a bumpy ride along life’s journey. The truth of the song is that storms do not last. Storms swoop into our lives, and in a heartbeat, can forever change our familiar landscape. Just when we think it will bring us to our knees in defeat, a rainbow promises that life continues after the storm has passed.