When Hard Things Happen There while We’re Here [—at A Life Overseas]

Ten years.

That’s how long we served overseas. And next month, that will be how long since we moved back to the States.

This year, this month, is also a milestone for Joplin, MO, where we live. It’s the ten-year anniversary of the F5 tornado that devastated our city on May 22. I’ve mentioned the tornado here before, including in last year’s “Coming or Going during Turbulent Times,” but it was in reference to our repatriation. Now I’d like to talk about it in another context: dealing with difficulties that happen “there” when we’re “here.”

My memory’s not really clear on all the details, but I think one of our coworkers contacted us on the morning of May 23 (we were 13 hours ahead) to tell us to go to the Weather Channel online, that a storm had hit Joplin. He, his wife, and kids had also lived in Joplin and had family there, so this was much more than just “news” for them, as well. When we got on the Internet, we saw reports of major destruction. News anchors were saying that one third of the city, home to 50,000, was gone. Surely not! we thought. They showed video of the high school, saying it was “gone” too. But we could see it. There it was! They had to be exaggerating. And yet a storm chaser cried as he stood where houses had once been.

We tried to call our son who was a sophomore at the university in Joplin, but cell service was overwhelmed. He’d been at the house of our forwarding agents nearby when the storm hit. One of them was at work at the hospital but couldn’t get home because the cars in the parking lot were stacked into piles. When we finally got ahold of him, we’d seen more of the damage than he had, because of internet and electricity outages in Joplin. We were hesitant, though, to give many details for fear we were wrong.

As it turned out, the high school was gone, even though many of the walls were still standing. Also destroyed or damaged beyond repair were five other schools, the hospital where our forwarding agent worked, a Wal-Mart, the Home Depot, and Academy Sports. The city of 50,000 suffered a horrific amount of devastation from the rain-rapped, multi-vortex tornado—up to one mile wide and on the ground for 22 miles: 161 people killed, 4,000 residential dwellings destroyed, an estimated 9,200 people displaced, 553 businesses destroyed or severely damaged.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Horizon,” by Sandro Bisotti, public domain]


Film on Joplin Tornado Named Best Foreign Language Documentary in Beijing


On May 22, 2011, the southwest Missouri city of Joplin made news reports around the globe when it was hit by an F5 tornado. Before moving to Taiwan, Joplin was our home for 5 years, and it became our home again when we moved back to the States one month after the storm.

On that day a coworker told us we should go to the Weather Channel’s Internet site, and we got our first look at the devastation from a distraught Mike Bettes, a Weather Channel storm chaser who arrived 10 minutes after the tornado had cut a 13-mile long, up to 3/4-mile-wide path through the city. Then we scanned CNN and several other national online news outlets. It was difficult to make sense of all the reports, largely because we were trying to convince ourselves that it couldn’t have been as bad as they reporters were saying. But while there were some inaccuracies in the initial reporting—due to the chaos and difficulties in communication—in the end, most of it was just as bad, or worse, than what we had heard. In a city of 50,000, 161 people had died, and 7,500 homes had been destroyed or damaged.

Our oldest son was back in Joplin, attending college, and we were able to get ahold of him fairly quickly by phone. At one point I might have said he was unaffected by the tornado, but we soon learned that everyone in Joplin, and in nearby communities, was affected somehow.

After we returned, we saw the immensity of the damage, but we know that that did not compare to living through it. We heard so many stories of loss, of hurt, of survival, of fear, of hope, of comfort. So many stories.

Documentary Wins Award on Other Side of the World

One of the groups telling the stories was The Joplin Globe, the city’s newspaper. Even though The Globe lost one of its staff and the homes of 25% of their employees were destroyed, they kept reporting. Their story is told in a documentary, Deadline in Disaster, produced by Orr Street Productions.

The film aired on Missouri PBS stations last year and won a 2013 Emmy in the Cultural Documentary Feature category, presented by the MidAmerica Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

But that’s not the only academy that’s taken notice. Last month, the third China Academy Awards of Documentary Film (CAADF) honored Deadline in Disaster as its choice for best foreign language film. The award ceremony, held on December 29, was organized by the China Documentary Research Center and hosted by the Communication University of China.

Beth Pike and Stephen Hudnell, directed and edited the film. Pike told  The Globe that she decided to contact CAADF after the documentary was praised by two employees of China Radio International. The two, Danna Ao, a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism, and Yinan Yan, saw it when it was screened at a Missouri Press Association conference they attended.

“They were very moved by the resiliency of the Globe staff and the people of Joplin,” Pike told the newspaper. “They could relate since China has had its share of earthquakes, with many deaths and injuries.”

Facts about the 5/22/11 Joplin tornado

  • 161 people killed
  • 4,000 residential dwellings destroyed
  • 3,500 residential dwellings damaged
  • 9,200 people displaced (estimated)
  • almost 3 million cubic yards of residential debris generated
  • 553 businesses destroyed or severely damaged
  • $2,017,564,600 in losses incurred (as of October 31, 2012)
  • 176,869 volunteers registered (as of April 30, 2013)
  • 1,146,083 hours of volunteer work recorded

(“‘Deadline in Disaster’ Wins China Academy Award for Foreign Language Film,” The Joplin Globe, December 30, 2013; “Fact Sheet–City of Joplin, May 22, 2011 EF-5 Tornado,” City of Joplin, Missouri, July 1, 2013)

[photo: “2011 Joplin Tornado,” by Ozarks Red Cross, used under a Creative Commons license]