Seven Months Later, Joplin, Missouri Stronger Than Ever
By Jennifer Willis
Joplin was devastated by a tornado on May 22, and Johnson hadn’t seen his home town since June, when he and a team from GCU drove a van full of clothing and supplies donated by faculty and staff to families affected by the disaster. The destruction he saw then was sobering.
“The biggest thing I was shocked to see now was the amount of cleanup that was done all over town,” says Johnson. “The debris is all gone, and places where homes used to be have been cleared and are ready to rebuild. Where it looked like a war zone before, now it just looks like clean land, like nothing used to be there.”
According to Johnson, the Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Home Depot that were all damaged in the tornado have already been rebuilt and are open for business. Several other smaller businesses, as well as many homes, are making progress, too.
“Although you can still see from one side of town to the other where the tornado went through, it is nice to see that path clean and not cluttered with the remains of everything the tornado ripped through,” says Johnson.
Reminders of the tornado are everywhere, though. St. John’s Hospital and Joplin High School, both of which took direct hits from the tornado, still sit as empty shells. Students have turned the local mall into a temporary school. But they brought a piece of school spirit with them – part of an old campus tree that an artist carved into an eagle, the school’s mascot.
“My friends and acquaintances that I spoke to while there were all very positive and think the community is coming back strong,” says Johnson. “The Prater, Johnson, and Smith families that GCU sponsored are all still doing great in their new and temporary homes and are so appreciative of the efforts coming from GCU and people in Arizona.”
Word of how the GCU community helped the town has spread through Joplin, according to Johnson. Residents he didn’t even know came up to him and thanked him for the efforts.
While there are some who have moved away and don’t plan to return, most have stayed to rebuild and ensure that Joplin comes back stronger than ever.
“This visit was much different than the one I had seven months ago right after all the damage happened,” says Johnson. “Where before I felt sad and sorry it happened, this time I feel good knowing everyone who survived is that much stronger for going through it all.”
“My best friend Jeff, who lost his business in the tornado, said it best: ‘If we can get through all of this, seeing friends die, others lose everything they have, and lots of memories of places we grew up with destroyed, we can survive anything.’”
Joplin will be featured on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The crew helped rebuild several houses in town and will air a two-hour special on the efforts on January 13, which is the show’s 100th episode and the series finale. Check local listings for show times.