10 years later, Joplin reflects on anniversary of deadliest tornado in modern history

Weather

JOPLIN, Mo.(NewsNation Now) — 10 years ago, a severe weather outbreak produced over 75 reported tornadoes, including a deadly one in the city of Minneapolis. One storm, in particular, changed the lives of everyone in the small city of Joplin, Missouri.

Late in the evening, a monstrous mile-wide EF-5 Tornado ripped right through the heart of town. It killed more than 160 people, injured more than 1,000, and was the deadliest in modern history.

The tornado tore a 22-mile path of destruction. It began on the outside of town and ended in the Joplin suburb of Duquesne.

A view of tornado damage as Air Force One carries US President Barack Obama to Joplin, Missouri May 29, 2011. Victims of the tornado continue to recover as 2011 becomes the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1953. The death toll stood at 142 one week after the tornado cut a path of death and destruction through the heart of this town of 50,000. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

KODE Chief Meteorologist Ray Foreman remarked that the main thing that stands out to him was how well the community came together after the storm.

“There were people, anyone anywhere near or in the damage zone became first responders. And they were using doors off destroyed homes as stretchers to carry people to the hospital,” said Foreman.

2011 was already a tragic year with the Super outbreak occurring in the southeast in April of that year, which killed 321 people, then just one month later, a monstrous mile-wide EF-5 Tornado ripped right through the heart of Joplin, MO. 

“I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until it became dark. Once night came, we had our tower cam focused on that section of town and it was just this dark swath with no street lights, no traffic lights,” said Foreman.” The only lights you could see were emergency personnel and that’s really when it hit me of how bad this was.”

Sandy Ferguson was a storm victim.

“Absolutely unbelievable to see what’s happened,” Ferguson said at the time.

Around 7,500 buildings were damaged or destroyed on that Sunday, May 22, 2011, in Joplin 10 years ago.

JOPLIN, MO – MAY 28: A damaged church organ is seen in the debris at St. Mary’s church after it was destroyed when a massive tornado passed through the town killing at least 132 people on May 28, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. As the town continues the process of recovering from the storm over 150 people are still missing and funerals have begun for the victims of the deadly tornado that struck on May 22. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Darren Kyler witnessed the damage.

“We’re talking thousands of people that are homeless, that are in a state of shock, and confused,” Kyler said the night of. “It’s mile, mile and a half wide, and majority of the homes are devastated.”

More than 4,000 houses were damaged, which left an estimated 9,200 people without a place to call home.

“I think this is something that’s going to stick with everyone for a very long time. Even though it’s been 10 years, there’s still a lot of fresh wounds you might say. You can see it around town and unfortunately this time of year when we start talking about potential tornados. That always has people on the edge,” said Foreman.

JOPLIN, MO – MAY 27: Scott Anderson reaches for a piece of debris near his heavily damaged home after a massive tornado passed through the town killing at least 132 people on May 27, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. Anderson said, “It’s like they dropped a bomb on us.” The town continues the process of recovering from the storm which damaged or destroyed an estimated 8,000 structures. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For Carrie Kessler, the night made her emotional.

“The hardest part is saying goodbye to neighbors where we’ve lived and been around for 21 years,” Kessler said.

Keith Stammer, emergency management director for Joplin says they do many training scenarios to try to prepare for an event like this. One of those happening just days before the tornado hit in 2011.

Stammer credits the massive response from all Joplin residents acting as first responders, surrounding cities for their mutual aid, as well as the 75,000 volunteers from all around the country who came in to help with disaster relief. 

JOPLIN, MO – MAY 27: A thank you message to volunteers is seen on the side of a building after a massive tornado passed through the town killing at least 132 people on May 27, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The town continues the process of recovering from the storm which damaged or destroyed an estimated 8,000 structures. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Search teams spread out across the area for days.

Even with damage and distractions around town, a crew found a breathing Alberta McDaniels trapped in debris. McDaniels explained how it happened.

“[They] kicked the door open and got me out,” McDaniels said.

Those from around the Ozarks and the country heard about the damage and paid Joplin a visit. This included Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, former Governor Jay Nixon and President Barack Obama. The President spoke to a large crowd.

JOPLIN, MO – MAY 29: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama greets people as he pays a visit to the community that was devastated a week ago by a tornado on May 29, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The tornado, which was packing winds of more than 200 mph, is now considered to hold the record for the highest death toll in U.S. history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Joplin will rebuild,” President Obama said.

Eight years later, the city experienced a second major deadly tornado on the anniversary of the 2011 EF-5. While it wasn’t as deadly, Foreman said it brought back memories.

“And that was a surreal moment when we started doing the sirens and talking about the warning for Joplin as it was almost taking the same path. It wasn’t as broad. It wasn’t as devastating but it still claimed some lives. And caused some damage, but just the simple fact that it was May 22nd, and we had that happening at the same time. It was fresh in everyone’s minds, but we all came together really well and quickly here,” explained Foreman.

NewsNation affiliate KTVI contributed to this report

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