JOPLIN — Terrla and J.E. Cruse had been back to the rubble that remained at their house in Joplin many times since the May 22 tornado destroyed it.
They lived there with their daughters, Isabella, 4, and Lauren, 2 months. Now they are staying with J.E. Cruse's parents.
Terrla Cruse said she needed to return to the site Tuesday to try to find paperwork needed for the family's Federal Emergency Management Agency application.
"We decided we were going back one more time," Cruse said.
She was standing at the site talking with her sister, Suzi Hoskins, when they heard meowing. Then more meowing.
"I thought it was the neighbor's cat," Cruse said. She hadn't seen her family's cat, Lavern, since the tornado. She said that after several attempts to find the 13-year-old cat, she didn't think there was much chance Lavern would be found.
She said she and her sister followed the meowing and started digging through the rubble. The meowing stopped.
"I said a little prayer that she would meow one more time," Cruse said. Then she heard another meow. She and her sister began digging just a little way from their original spot. After more rubble and plaster were removed, Lavern's head emerged. They dug a little more to free her.
"It was total shock and excitement," Cruse said. "I didn't think it was going to be her. It was just a total shock and happiness."
Cruse said the cat was dehydrated and had lost weight well after 16 days of being buried in rubble. She took Lavern to a veterinarian, where the cat remained Wednesday. She is expected to make a full recovery.
"She's fine," Cruse said. "She's doing good. I think she's used up all nine of her lives."
Cruse said Isabella was happy when she told her that she had found Lavern.
She said finding Lavern was a bright spot among what have been some difficult times.
"It's been a roller coaster," Cruse said Wednesday. "(Tuesday) was a good day."