Not a year passes that May 22nd doesn’t stir up all the feelings. Deep inside it still haunts me and sometimes I still find myself wondering if it is going to “break” again.
6 years ago today, we experienced something that changed us forever. I’ve blogged about the aftermath of that day a few times before, but I have never really shared about what happened in the moments before and at 5:41.
May 22nd, 2011 was a Sunday. I was 27 years old and had just quit my job to be a stay at home mom. Russ was 31, Marissa was 2 years 11 months, and our sweet Emily Elizabeth had just turned 3 months old.
The day started like any other Sunday. Church as a family, home for lunch, and me desperately trying to get caught up on laundry before the weekend was over and I was once again an outnumbered mama. I can’t recall how many loads of laundry I did that day but I know there were PILES all over the living room furniture and Russ had promised me we would get a grip on them together later that night.
I laid Marissa down for a nap and left the house around 1:00 to attend a womens forum at church. I remember not wanting to go and being frustrated with the results of it, especially knowing how much work needed to be done at home. I finally made it back and went to put another load of laundry in the dryer, only to discover that it wasn’t working. I was so frustrated and told Russ that we HAD to have a dryer. I was ready to go to Lowes and by a new one on the spot but he talked me down. So I hopped in my car around 5:00 to take a load of wet laundry to my parents house. I threw it in their dryer and told my mom that I’d be back to get it soon…
When I came back home the weather was acting really weird. We had plans to grill chicken for dinner and not wanting to change our plans Russ put the grill under the patio and said we’d work it out.
Then things start to get fuzzy.
I remember being spooked about the weather so I decided to turn the news on while I sat down to nurse the baby. I remember Russ saying how weird the sky looked in shape and color. He was standing outside almost mesmerized. And I remember the guy on the television saying there was a tornado on the ground in west Joplin, the other side of town. He looked completely terrified and was frantically begging people to take shelter… and the tv went blank.
At this point I started getting naively scared. I told Russ that maybe I should take the girls to the bathroom and get them in the tub just in case. I didn’t think to grab shoes, a diaper bag, blankets, my phone, or even my wallet. I just went to the bathroom barefoot with the girls. When I sat down in the tub I was doing it fully expecting to walk back out to our normal life within a few minutes. Russ promised he’d be on his way shortly. We hunkered in the tub, Emily in my arms and Marissa by my side, and we waited. Finally Russ made his way to the bathroom. Less than a minute after he closed the door it sounded like a car ran into our house. That’s when we realized this wasn’t like the times before.
I can’t even describe what the next few minutes were like. The noises, the emotions, the prayers for help. It seemed to go on and on forever, and it did. By the time the tornado hit the west side of the Joplin Metro it was rated and F5, the strongest tornado possible. It was one mile wide in size so you couldn’t even make out the distinct funnel, it looked more like a wall of black. Once on the ground the tornado moved at an extremely slow speed of only 20-25 mph, ripping the entire city in two, from one side to the next. Russ was on the outside of the tub and had to stretch out his leg and press his foot against the door because it was shaking so violently.
And finally it stopped. I remember sitting there shocked that we were still alive and completely terrified. We looked up and through the bathroom vent we could see the sky. We just sat there in shock, so unsure of what we should do.
After a few minutes I started panicking I had to get out of that bathroom. I begged Russ to let us out. When he finally felt it was safe he cracked open the door and immediately slammed it shut. He looked me straight in the eyes and said something to me that I will NEVER forget. He said “It’s really, really bad. But everything that is really important is inside this bathroom right now.” All I could do was nod my head okay with tear filled eyes.
From that moment on I felt nothing but love and support from the closest of friends and family to complete and total strangers.
The front of our house. The orange marks were used to show that the house had been searched.
The tiny bathroom that kept our family safe. Notice the stuff all over the door. It was on EVERYTHING. It was a combo of insulation, dirt, splinters and mud. Less than a year earlier we had entirely gutted and remodeled this bathroom, covering up the old window that used to be in the shower.
Our garage. The whole thing was gone.
Living room. The piles of laundry were gone.
The curb. The city had said if you don’t want it, push it to the curb. Most things were left completely unusable because they were broken, water-logged, or full of glass shards and insulation. We ended up pushing our entire house to the curb thanks to some amazing volunteers from New Mexico.
As much as the tornado sucked, Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t get blown away with everything else. He was with us in the bathroom, he was with us as we cried ourselves to sleep that night, and he was there through all of the baggage that we dealt with for months after the tornado.
May 22nd, 2011 may be a hard day, but I will always look back on that day and remember the good.
May 22nd 6 years later. Telling my story on the blog #Joplin #Joplintornado #6YearsStrong Click To Tweet