Signs like this one are all over town: A "Rebuilding Joplin" banner flapping on a fence in the foreground, and steady signs of progress in the background as a home or business is in the process of being rebuilt.
As you might imagine after such a catastrophe (over 8,000 structures were completely destroyed), it has taken awhile for the dust to settle. Some folks have decided to pick up the pieces and move on to a new life elsewhere. Many stayed behind and are using insurance payments, life savings, tax refunds and any other means available to rebuild and get a fresh new start in Joplin.
The scene below is particularly striking. In this AP photo from just last week, you can see the soon to be demolished St. John's Hospital in the background, and two brand new homes under construction in the foreground:
Its a scene repeated all through the south part of town, with cleared foundations in one area and new construction underway on another:
Getty News Photo
...and yet, even one year later, there are still clear signs of the damage and destruction in several areas as well:
The original St. John's hospital building, which to many outsiders became "the face" of the Joplin tornado is slowly being demolished. The process is expected to be complete by this September (due to underground mines and shafts, a quick implosion of the structure was deemed to be unsafe):
The St. John's Hospital Building Is Slowly Being Demolished
St. John's recently opened a brand new "interim" hospital under the name "Mercy Hospital", on St. John's Boulevard:
A Temporary Mercy Hospital Is Now Open
The main hospital will be rebuilt back on the original site, and is expected to be complete in 2014:
Artists Rendering of New Mercy Hospital - 2014
How can we forget the images of the Joplin High School? I know I never will:
Joplin High School - Rob White Photo
Students attended classes at a vacant shopping mall this year, and will continue do so for the next couple of years, until the new High School is complete and ready for opening in the fall of 2014:
Artists Rendering of New Joplin High School - 2014
"Big box" retailers have reopened on Range Line Drive, and hundreds of new commercial building permits were issued by the City of Joplin through the end of April:
Wal-Mart store #59 right after the tornado (above) and with its new outlook on life in 2012 (below):
A similar story came about for the Home Depot this year. First, a look at what little was left of the structure (where 7 people died) right after the tornado in 2011:
...and the new facility that opened this year:
The new Home Depot store includes a room capable of holding 150 people that is built out of reinforced concrete and steel. Company officials refuse to describe it as such, but it sure sounds like a tornado safe room to me!
While bricks and mortar fly up pretty quickly these days, it will take much longer for the inner-personal wounds to heal. Most of the folks that survived a direct or near direct hit by the tornado literally hung on for 60 to 90 seconds - which must have felt like an eternity.
As one recovery counselor in Joplin, Reverend James Patrick Ryan, recently put it: "Those people lived through a longer period of time than most soldiers live through a firefight..."
He goes on to say: "Before moving on, one must first come to terms with what has fundamentally changed...for many that means the loss of loved ones who, unlike homes and businesses, can neither be rebuilt nor replaced..."
Joplin Tornado Memorial
Without a doubt, it will be months or even years before many residents feel "normal" again. Some, unfortunately, may never be able to feel that way again. Once the media fanfare subsides over the "one year anniversary" of the event, and the grand opening of this, and the re-opening of that, it will be very important to let those folks know that they have not been forgotten, and we are in this for the long haul.
If you would like to volunteer your time or make some other contribution to the Joplin Recovery effort, this is a good place to start.
To read "Joplin: One Year Later. Part I: Lesson's Learned (or In Progress)", go here. If you would like to read my original post concerning the Joplin tornado, from May 22, 2011, please go here.
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