It’s been a year since I sent a Joplin update. Today’s second anniversary has been a study in contrasts – especially since five hours down the road, not far from I-44 (which follows old Rte. 66 most of the way), a town much like Joplin is starting to dig itself out from calamity. Moore is about Joplin’s size, its hospital and two schools were destroyed, the storm was an EF5. The debris looks exactly the same. It hurts to watch. Many of those who would have been at the ceremonies today are down in Moore helping those Oklahomans whose week started with the realization that life is forever changed. The first responders from Joplin who went to Mooreevening have made a commitment to return – again and again. It is a way to help pay back.
There have been almost 180,000 volunteers registered in the city over the last two years. There have been countless thousands who never signed in anywhere, who just appeared and went to work. They continue to arrive, by the dozens and scores , week after week after week.
We can tell Moore this: There is light at the end of the tunnel. Today at the anniversary ceremonies one of the Joplin survivors wrote those words on a 20 foot banner that will be sent to Moore.
Today Janet Napolitano was in Moore and then came to Joplin. She spoke to the thousands assembled in Cunningham Park, rebuilt and beautiful (the trees will grow), as did Governor Nixon, and the mayor, the city manager, and other dignitaries. There were lots of statistics – 80 % of the businesses are back, up and running, even if some are still in temporary quarters. Over 80% of the destroyed/damaged homes are either rebuilt or have building permits. Most of the 28 churches lost have rebuilt; it seems another one opens almost every. St. Mary’s Catholic Church broke ground last week and will probably be the last church to be completed in another year or so. The schools are on track, and the new hospital rises, immense and impressive, right beside Exit 6 on I-44. They placed the last piece of steel a couple of weeks ago, and there above the interstate the construction crew flew American flags beside the traditional evergreen tree hoisted to the topmost girder.
Today an official from the Department of Commerce announced to those in the park that Joplin will receive a $20 million grant to help in the redevelopment of 20th Street, which used to be a main commercial thoroughfare through the city but which has been slow to recover. The grant will go toward the construction of a new library/theater complex as an anchor for development, and the old library – MY old library – will be taken down and replaced (so we’re told) with a medical school in the heart of Joplin’s downtown.
But despite all the accolades and optimism and celebration of recovery, the most emotional moment in the ceremonies this afternoon came at, the exact moment when the tornado started its grinding march across town. That moment of silence held the hearts of everyone there in stasis – the bagpipes wailed through “Amazing Grace” and everyone forgot rebuilt houses and laudatory statistics because the real cost of Joplin’s disaster -- those 161 lost lives and the thousands of injuries, many permanent –still pierces the heart and soul of each Joplin citizen like a knife. There are 161 new trees in Cunningham Park, a memorial that will be as much or more important to generations to come than plaques and statues.
I loved what Governor Nixon said: “Joplin is many things, and right now I believe you are a beacon of hope — a sign that in times of great need, we are not alone; a sign that wounds do heal, though sometimes they still hurt; that life changes, but it goes on,” the governor said. “And as it does, the power of hope lifts our hearts and compels us forward.”
Thank you, everyone, for your continued messages of concern and support.