Dispatch from Joplin: Finding the silver lining

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | 10:34 p.m. CDT; updated 9:22 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 26, 2011

JOPLIN — Storm clouds continued to linger over the city of Joplin on Wednesday, but that’s not to say there wasn't any silver lining to be found.

Amid the ruins, mini-celebrations occasionally occur. Two women did a victory dance together because they found a matching pair of tennis shoes — intact, at that.

A young boy ran around in a Spider-Man costume, making a passer-by chuckle.

“Look at that,” the onlooker said. “Spider-Man made it.”

At the Red Cross Shelter, a little girl in footie pajamas (the same brilliant hostess I’d seen serving cookies there the day before) walked into one of the shelter rooms, still dark and full of sleeping refugees, and yelled, “Rise and shine!” at the top of her lungs.

I realized then that these fellow survivors are her new extended family.

Slowly but surely, friends and families are reuniting, pets are being found, lost treasures are being discovered. People are finding themselves smiling again. Not as often, certainly, and maybe not as brightly — but they'll get there.

“These people have a lot of moxie,” I overheard a worker saying today.

I wouldn’t disagree.

As severe weather began to roll across Missouri today and tornado sirens sounded off in Columbia, I couldn’t help but hold my breath. From what I was reading from my friends via Twitter, they were frightened. And rightly so.

While they were retreating to safety, I was outside of Joplin High School and was pleasantly surprised to run into an old friend, Dianna. She graduated from Joplin in 2006. Her mother retired from the school just last year.

Clad in a Joplin Eagles hoodie and staring blankly at the wreckage, Dianna shook her head and started to cry. She never took warnings seriously, she said — a sentiment I shared completely.

Midwesterners are fearless in the face of storms. We laugh at our out-of-state friends who jump at a tornado watch. It’s not serious until it’s a warning, we insist.

And even then, it’s not going to hit us.

As the people of Joplin will all attest, you might not always be so lucky. Warnings are there for a reason: to give you time to reach safety.

I certainly heeded the sirens in Joplin last night as the threat of tornadoes hung over our heads once again. Huddled in a tiny bathroom with five others, I ran over the survival tactics that people had shared with me.

Take shelter in a basement or interior room: check.

Grab a pillow to cover your head: check.

Listen to the radio and don’t come out until the coast is clear: check.

But I couldn’t help but think of the now 125 people who were killed and the 1,500 still missing.

The storm petered out, and as a city, we all joined in a collective sigh of relief.

I’m told there was no damage in Columbia today, either, but regardless, I am so glad to know that at least some of my friends were taking cover.

Because if there is one good thing that can come out of this tragedy, I hope it is that we never again laugh in the face of a storm.


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Harold Sutton May 26, 2011 | 8:16 a.m.

Once again, Eliza Smith, a well told story. I look forward to your future as a Journalist. "Atta Girl"

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