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The Home Depot store is no longer
standing in Joplin, MO, but the clerks are busy selling building materials in the
Nine days after a massive tornado
tore through the middle of town, flattening everything in its path with
200-m.p.h. winds, the residents of Joplin–mourning at least 132 dead and still
searching for 156 missing–are lifting the spirits of the nation with their
resilience and determination to rebuild.
Within hours of the deadly May 22
storm, the world began to understand the
solid character of the people of Joplin as story after story emerged of heroic
acts of individual courage and sacrifice in the face of certain death.
We don’t know their names, but we
will not forget the grocery store clerk who perished holding the door to a
walk-in freezer closed so that a dozen people inside could survive, or the
nurses at St. John’s Regional Medical Center who ran upstairs to save bedridden
patients as the tornado slammed directly into the hospital, carrying away its
top floor. Six people died at the medical center, but thanks to the heroic staff 183
were safely evacuated.
“It was like a bomb went off
inside on every floor,” St. John’s chief executive Gary Pulsipher told
The medical center became an iconic
image of the May 22 storm, its windows blown out and its Medivac helicopter
lying on its side. So did the local Home Depot, demolished beyond recognition, shards of its familiar orange sign winding around twisted debris on the ground.
Today, the hospital and the home
improvement store also are serving as landmarks to the undiminished spirit of
the people of Joplin. Less than a week after the tornado struck, St. John’s
resumed operations: a temporary tent hospital has been set up across the street
from the wrecked building; trailers house MRI and CAT scan units; two new
helipads have been paved. While most of the 900 who were injured in the tornado
are being treated in neighboring towns, St. John’s says it’s now able to
handle up to 60 patients at a time in its makeshift facilities.
“We can do already what we used
to do in our big building, just on a smaller scale, and as we go through the
next few weeks that scale will grow,” Dr. Bob Dodson, St. John’s trauma
medical director, told CBS News. In a stroke of good luck, he added, all of the
hospital’s medical records remain intact because the facility moved from paper
to electronic files just a few weeks before the storm hit.
The can-do spirit of Joplin also is
on display over at the Home Depot, where
employees in orange vests are busy helping customers stock up on building
materials piled high on tables in the parking lot of the demolished store.
While Joplin residents queue up for plywood and roofing materials, workers are
hammering away in another section of the lot, putting up a 30,000-square-foot
temporary building that will open later this month,
“We’re trying to let people
know we’re not just a retail store to take their money. We’re here for
them,” store manager Steve Cope told the Associated Press.
Cope and his co-workers will be very busy in
coming weeks: an estimated 8,000 homes in Joplin were damaged or destroyed by
the tornado, along with hundreds of commercial buildings, schools and the
city’s largest hospital.
But even as a moonscape of damage
litters a large portion of Joplin, the rebuilding is well underway. The world
is taking note: a report on the BBC over the Memorial Day weekend featured a
man putting up the wooden frame of a wall in the middle of a pile of rubble.
Asked what he was doing, the man said he was rebuilding his wife’s beauty
parlor, leveled by the storm.
“It may look bad now, but we’re
coming back,” he said.
An American flag attached to a
2-by-4 flew from the frame of what will be the shop’s new front window, telling
the world that part of Joplin may have been flattened but it’s people are still
standing–and they are standing tall.