Joplin: One Year Later
It's been one year since a deadly tornado ravaged Joplin, Mo. and took the lives of 161, injured hundreds and flattened nearly a third of the town.
But one year later and the town is bouncing back, rebuilding homes and businesses leveled by the EF5 tornado, with winds clocking in at over 200 mph.
"Joplin is on the mend," said Mayor Melodie Colbert-Kean. "We have a long road to travel, but the way that everyone is joining together and unifying and chipping in, we're going to make it."
Over the past year, $310 million in building permits were issued, many retail chains and smaller stores rebuilding and returning. Six-hundred permits for new homes and 3,000 for residential repairs have been approved, with city officials receiving word in April that federal funding will likely replace the 2,000 traffic lights and signs taken out by the twister. Post-storm sales of safe houses has sold four times as many rooms prior to the tornado to help combat Joplin's rocky soil.
To commemorate the anniversary, President Obama traveled to the town, speaking at Joplin High School's commencement, praising the seniors and their community for their "kindness and generosity."
“As you take on the roles of colleague and neighbor and citizen, you will encounter all kinds of divisions between groups — divisions of race and religion and ideology,” the president said. “But you are from Joplin. So you will know that it’s always possible for a community to come together when it matters most.”
"My deepest hope for all of you is that as you begin this new chapter in your life, you will bring that spirit of Joplin to every place you travel and everything you do," Obama said. "You can serve as a reminder that we're not meant to walk this road alone; that we're not expected to face down adversity by ourselves. We need each other. We're important to each other. We're stronger together than we are on our own."
The story of the devastating tornado, Obama noted, can be told in numbers:
"In only 32 minutes, it took thousands of homes, hundreds of businesses, and 161 of your neighbors, your friends and your family members," he said. "It took Will Norton, who had just left this auditorium with a diploma in his hand. It took Lantz Hare, who should've received his diploma next year."
But so too, he said, can the recovery be marked by some inspiring numbers:
•The nearly 50,000 volunteers who came to help Joplin recover and rebuild.
•The 600 miles Mark Carr drove from Colorado with three children and two chain saws, which paled compared to the distance traversed by a volunteer from Japan who recalled U.S. aid after the 2011 tsunami.
•The $500,000 donated by Angelina Jolie and Missouri native Brad Pitt, but also the $360 raised by a 9-year-old boy's car wash and the $5 in lunch money returned to Carol Mann by members of the University of Missouri football team.
According to the ABC News, the tornado touched down just hours after last year's graduation. Following the destruction of the town's schools, the city turned a vacant retail store into a temporary high school for juniors and seniors. Lower grades were delegated to other locations, including a park warehouse. The school will break ground symbolically at three news schools Tuesday, with a 2014 date set for the new Joplin High School opening.
Reach Amanda Martinez here