Usually, when I submit a diary to Daily Kos, it is because I have something hopefully enlightening or entertaining to say about something in the news.
Today, I am submitting a diary to promote a book, written by veteran reporter John Hacker and me, Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado.
We wanted to tell the inspirational story of Joplin, the city that would not die, not just dwelling on the May 22, 2011, tornado that destroyed one-third of my city, but telling the story of how Joplin, with the help of the nation and the world, has made a remarkable, though still ongoing recovery.
A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book can be found at this link.
The following is a sample chapter from the book, detailing my first visit into an area of Joplin that was hit the hardest.
THE HOUSE OF BRICKS
It was an odd thought, one that should probably have never crossed my mind as I looked at the shell that had once been an apartment complex behind the 15th Street Wal-Mart.
I thought about the third little pig, the one who had been clever and resourceful and managed to thwart the Big Bad Wolf’s plans to have him over for dinner as the main course.
Like hundreds of sightseers, I snapped photos of the tornado-damaged apartments, listening to the sounds of people marching back and forth between their cars and the apartments, carrying anything that was salvageable. Only two days earlier, these had been homes.
These were not apartments made of straw or twigs; these had been brick apartments. Perhaps they were built to withstand a big, bad wolf huffing and puffing, but never managing to blow their houses down.
Not even bricks could stand against the force of an EF-5 tornado.
I wasn’t at the complex as a sightseer. I was serving as a guide to Terry Greene Sterling, a Daily Beast reporter. Earlier in the day, we had gone through Joplin’ s neighboring community of Duquesne, which had also been ripped apart by the storm.
To avoid the long wait as traffic crawled along Duquesne Road, we asked a property owner for permission to park her car, and then walked to Duquesne. When we reached the roundabout in the center of the community, the damage was obvious.
The roundabout had been placed at 20th and Duquesne just before East Middle School, where I teach eighth grade communication arts, opened in the fall of 2009. The businesses on either side of the street were gone, as far as the eye could see, and so were the homes to the east of the roundabout.
We headed east and stopped at what was left on the first home on the right hand side of the road. Ms. Sterling and I talked with Jodie and Christina Neil, who told us their story, which was featured in Ms. Sterling’s article:
Jodie Neal and his wife, Christina, had no basement in their home. They survived the fierce wind by rolling up in a green blanket, planting themselves in the hallway, and covering their two children with their bodies. Their house broke up around them. Jodie downplayed the red welts and scabs on his back, caused by flying shards of debris. “Some people died,” he said. “This is nothing.”As we talked, a loud “meow” sound came and the excited children ran to their cat who had been missing in action since Sunday evening.
The joy was tempered by a somber pronouncement from Christina Neal. “We have two cats.” I never found out if the other cat had been found.
After talking with the Neals, Ms. Sterling and I continued to East Middle School. We could not get into the building, but we were able to walk up to it. Had we been there a day earlier, we could have looked in the windows and saw the rooms. By this time on Tuesday morning, the windows were boarded up. I would have to wait another week to see how my room had fared.
The auditorium, the heart and soul of our building, was gone and the walls of the gymnasium were also missing in action. The only thing that could be seen in the gymnasium was the giant Joplin Eagle.
After the visit to East, Ms. Sterling and I walked back to her car and managed to work our way to the apartment complex.
I had an ulterior motive for wanting to be with Ms. Sterling in this area. Since the tornado, I had been doing my best, as other teachers in the Joplin School District had, to make sure that my students were all right.
I had seen a Facebook message that indicated one of my students, a tall, gangly redheaded boy, had not been seen. As Ms. Sterling winded our way through the complex, I asked a number of people if they had seen him.
None of them even knew who he was.
Ms. Sterling and I came upon a woman and her father, who were removing belongings from a ground-level apartment. I asked about my student and the father also had no idea of who he was, but he had another tidbit of information that eased my mind. He said the apartment manager had said everyone was accounted for. Even as I breathed a sigh of relief, out of nowhere, he said, “But my son died.”
And for the next several minutes, Ms. Sterling and I heard Terry Lucas and his daughter, Terri Bass, tell the story of Chris Lucas, who had been the manager of the Pizza Hut on Rangeline.
Ms. Sterling wrote about the encounter in the Daily Beast:
But we did meet Terri Bass, the sister of Chris Lucas, a 27-year-old former Navy submariner and father of four who lived in this same complex and worked as manager of a nearby Pizza Hut.What was not included in the story- Chris Lucas was the father of two small children with another on the way.
When the storm hit, Lucas herded his employees into a sturdy cooler. Then he and another manager huddled into a more flimsy cooler, Bass told us.
Lucas was sucked into the storm. Rescue workers recovered his body several hundred yards from the cooler.
He died a hero, his sister said, risking his life for others. “He was a really good brother,” Bass said.
I watched Terry Lucas’ anguished face as his daughter told Chris’s story to Ms. Sterling and me. That haunted look, even more than the shell of the brick apartment complex, brought home the true devastation of the tornado.