I heard someone say recently that “life is easy…until it happens to you”.
You know what I’m talking about…those occasions when you drive by a car accident that’s been moved to the side of the freeway.
I know what that’s like for me. I look over and I see frustrated drivers, always shocked and in some cases, injured and dazed. I’d see the broken glass on the roadway, the crumpled hood…the rear bumper that’s now part of the back seat. All of those images, for that moment, were stuck in my mind.
“Poor bastard!!”, I’d think to myself. “Thank God, that didn’t happen to me. A wreck would be the LAST thing I’d need.”
Then, my pity AND my gratitude for exemption exited my gray matter as fast as it entered it.
But I have to tell you, that what I’ve seen in photos and video from Joplin, Missouri, I cannot shake.
A tornado, a mile wide…in the frighteningly classic wedge shape which always means devastation…literally attacked that midwestern city late Sunday afternoon. In a short ten minute span, the storm with winds believed to be in excess of 200 mph, annihilated 75 percent of Joplin. It literally left the city splintered. And I don’t even know if that’s an appropriate word to describe Joplin. But people have tried. I’ve heard the words ‘flattened” and “steamrolled” used. Perhaps they’d fit, but to be honest, I can’t even divine the right adjectives to aptly describe the photos I’ve seen. They defy description and they almost render me verbally incapacitated.
That said, I can’t imagine actually being there in a city where death and destruction is everywhere you look; everywhere you smell.
It was overwhelming for seasoned meteorologist Mike Bettis. The Weather Channel’s veteran storm chaser has (as we say in the biz) “seen a lot of shit’ in his years in front of the camera. From a paralyzing snow storms in Duluth to floods in Kentucky, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, a drought in Oklahoma, Bettis has seen it all….or at least that’s what we all thought. Bettis had been chasing the storms that hit Missouri this past Sunday. He was one of the first reporters on the scene, but he wasn’t at all prepared for what he saw:
It would be grossly unfair to say what has happened in the Midwest is worse than any other storm that caused damage on American soil, but as devastation goes. Try telling that to the family who lose everything in Pass Christian, Mississippi after Camille. But I must say that based on initial observations, the tornado in Joplin makes just about ever other natural disaster in modern times, seem like a piker. Katrina included. I say that because while horrific, the devastation of Katrina was (in New Orleans anyway) almost as much the result of human error, abuse and misuse than anything else. I pray that Joplin and all the tornado ravaged areas won’t be as politicized as Katrina was.
Frankly, I don’t see how anyone could have the heart to do such a thing. Not in the wake of this kind of devastation and loss.
And the people of Joplin….my God. They are the walking wounded personified. Their lives aren’t just displaced; their lives are as shattered as the bombed out environment around them. The loss, in both possession and human life is more than anyone can bear. In the days following the storm, emergency crews would simply lay the bodies of those found in the rubble on the sidewalks. Stunned family members would approach their loved ones and attempt to administer CPR, even when it was more than obvious, that CPR could do no good.
And it gets worse. From what I’m hearing, the twister was so powerful, that they’re only finding body parts in some of the harder hit areas. A federal forensics team of 50 to 75 disaster mortuary specialists has been at work in six refrigerated trucks, collecting DNA samples for testing, taking fingerprints and looking for tattoos, body piercings, moles and other distinctive marks. We’re talking attempts to identify bodies using the same means employed in IDing victims of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
Where do you begin to clean up? How do you even contemplate rebuilding your life when you’ve lost your home and two children? How do you start to rebuild a city destroyed to the point of being utterly unrecognizable? Where do you start when your hometown resembles Dresden after it was fire bombed in World War II? How do you begin rebuilding an infrastructure for a city that simply is no more? How do you define ‘normal’ ever again?
But eventually, all those questions are answered. There’s power and might in American resolve. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done.
Northridge after the earthquake.
Homestead after Andrew.
Manhattan after 9/11.
And somehow, it’s what Joplin will do…and Alabama, Arkansas and all the other fragmented places where the cold fist of disaster has tried to obliterate.
Lastly, in one of the cruelest ironies of all, this was the scene in Joplin in the hours following the storm. Amid the devastation and death, the grim aftermath and grieving, there was beauty.
And yes, in spite of everything, beauty can eventually return. And it will. Life is like that.
So, for the city of Joplin and its wounded citizenry: I ask you to please send good thoughtsand what you can afford monetarily, for the full recovery of buildings, of lives and of spirit.