You hear about it on the news. “A violent tornado hit Joplin, Missouri today.” Pictures of video and damage blanket the national news coverage in the days following the tornado. For another week or two after, cleanup and recovery stories start to come in. Witnesses share their accounts of the event, and government officials discuss how to recover from such a devastating event.
After the initial days and weeks, news agencies not local to the area move on to the next story. The news coverage is done, but the damage and destruction remain months and even years later. Now, at five years past the day an EF-5 tornado killed dozens and caused billions of dollars of damage, we look at how the damage-impacted areas have recovered, and what still lies ahead.
The tornado took out multiple schools on its 22.1-mile journey. Temporary classrooms allowed classes to begin on time in August, but it took several years to get news schools built and open. While some education buildings are still being rebuilt, 2014 and 2015 saw the reopening of elementary, middle, and high schools that host thousands of Joplin students.
St. John’s Regional Medical Center was probably the biggest testament to the tornado's strength. The large, well-built building was so severely damaged, it had to be torn down. To replace it, around $465-million went to building the new Mercy Hospital, which opened in March 2015.
Homes, businesses, and government buildings have been steadily getting rebuilt, and new businesses have come into the area. Tens of thousands of volunteers, hundreds of thousands of work hours, and a resilient, determined community has come a long way in getting Joplin back on its feet. However, for damage at such a severe scale as Joplin, more work needs to be done in the years ahead to get the city back to normal.
While many homes and neighborhoods have been rebuilt over the past five years, it will be a long time before the replacement of roughly 7,000 homes is complete. The years to come will see the opening of a new library, university, parks and businesses. Housing incentives and new business has helped the population of Joplin recover and stabilize. Some of these programs are still going today to help fill in the gaps that remain across the tornado's damage path.
It took the tornado minutes to rip a path of destruction through the city of Joplin, and it will take years to undo the damage to the city's infrastructure. The monster whirlwind that took the lives of 161 people failed to take the spirit from the community, which continues to push forward in bringing the damaged Joplin back to life.
Story Image: A bird's eye view of the damage in Joplin, Mo., following a devastating tornado May 22, 2011.