A Twister in Joplin: Both Loss and Love

 By Don White

161 people were killed and over 1000 were injured on May 22, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. The twister, with winds over 200 mph, was the deadliest tornado in America since 1947, carving a scar on the earth one mile wide and seven miles long. When the winds died down, the College Heights Christian Church was the control center for recovery efforts. Their pastor, Randy Garish, spoke to church leaders in Oregon about the horrors, and heartbreak.

Original photo found in the Wikimedia Commons. The title of the conference was, “Being the Heart and Hands of Jesus in the Eye of the Storm.” Randy spoke of the role of the church in the midst of crisis, reminding us of what Jesus would do for those desperately hurting around us. He shared several touching and heart-wrenching human stories about those caught up in the storm.

A husband quickly covered his wife with his own body outside as winds whipped debris about them. As he covered her, he said he wasn’t sure if he’d make it, so over the roar of the winds he began speaking into her ear crucial messages of love. As soon as he was done speaking, his body was punctured by flying debris and he was killed, those loving messages still echoing in his wife’s heart, messages that will remain with her the rest of her life and will surely be passed down to children and grandchildren.

National Weather Service, Springfield, MO

Aftermath of tornado, May 22, 2011 at Joplin, MO

A grandmother in Joplin was reflecting on the beautiful day outside her window. Using her cell phone, she sent out text messages to her granddaughter about how beautiful heaven must be. Then she saw the coming storm; it was headed straight for her. She sent another text message to her granddaughter, saying, “I may get to see the face of Jesus today.” Moments later she was in heaven, seeing the very face she spoke of. That young woman will never forget her grandmother’s faith and spiritual longing.

A child was sucked from the very arms of his mother. He flew across the yard toward the tornado, but was caught by a swing set in their backyard. There he was, whipping about, wrapped in the chains of the swing. His mother struggled against the storm to reach her son, to pull him back into the house. Finally safe inside their home, he told his mom that if it wasn’t for the “man with the big butterfly wings” who caught him and put him in the swing, the tornado would have taken him away.

Gary gave us all a booklet from Ozark Christian College containing many other stories. The college stood on the very edge of the tornado’s path. Many people connected with the school died that day. People like Natalia, who just completed her freshman year.

She was an excellent student, and thoroughly in love with Jesus. Her last facebook post that day, before the winds came, was these lyrics to a song: “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song. This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.” When the storm hit, Natalia covered a seven-year-old child with her own body and began to pray out loud. Her pastor said he could hear Natalia praying, and then suddenly she was silent. She died speaking with the Lord she was preparing to meet.

After hearing of Natalia’s passing, a Bible professor returned to his home and glanced at a stack of papers waiting to be graded. Natalia’s paper was on the top, and her topic was the resurrection of Christ. “It’s a good paper, deserving of an A,” the professor said, “but she knows this truth far better now.”

When President Obama arrived, he was impressed with how the church sprang into action for the recovery effort. He told Randy that the government could send all kinds of food, supplies and medical assistance, but only the church could fix broken hearts. Randy told the president that they would do their best.

Shortly after the tornado, Christian baptisms began occurring all over the community in ditches of dirty water. Tragedy somehow opened the hearts of countless people, moving them to look for something more precious than material possessions and creature comforts. Countless church members took action to heal the hurting and comfort the frightened and grieving.

An official from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told Randy that, of all the disasters he has been involved in over the years, he had never seen a group of people as organized, or as tender and compassionate as those led by the College Heights Christian Church. May that be said about all of when the need arises.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” (Gal 6:9-10).

Writing Prompts: When have you seen heartbreak or tragedy bring out the best in people? What is it about tragedy that draws people together in unity, even in a culture where we are often so isolated? What lessons have you learned from heartbreak?

April 27, 2011 – A Different Perspective

by Ginger SolomonGinger pic

I am so late with this post. I apologize to our faithful readers.

I live a few counties away from Jennifer. You can read her account of the storm here, if you haven’t already.

I was thankful for many things on April 27, 2011 that I tend to take for granted. I homeschool, so all of my children were home with me. Our neighbors are nice and shared their generator with us. Our grill runs on natural gas, and those lines were unaffected by the storm. I’m also thankful my husband made it home safely. He left work DURING the storm.

I have, somewhere (I couldn’t find it), a picture of one of the EF-5s going by within a mile of my house. Our neighbor did a video on YouTube (but, of course, I couldn’t find that either). After the storm had cleared, my husband took a short drive to see the damage. The cinder block buildings that housed the restrooms and offices of the pool where we belonged were leveled, just gone. The truck the owner left in the parking lot was upside down on the edge of the pool. Later, the owner said they found fish in the pool. The three houses across the street were also flattened. I have no idea if the people survived or not. They did not rebuild. In the same area, concrete (not wood) telephone/electric poles were snapped in half. The steel beams of the relay station (electricity) were twisted like you would do to a twist-tie around a loaf of bread. We saw a trampoline from some unknown place stuck on a group of trees.

I don’t think I was nearly as scared as I should have been during the storm. Here is a video that I found taken about two miles east of my house.

We were without power for three or four days, I don’t remember exactly. During that time, we used a cast-iron griddle on the grill and made pancakes, bacon, eggs, hamburgers, etc. We put frozen pizza on the grill; it didn’t turn out too bad. But, of course, we had a little experience because several years earlier when we lived in Virginia, a bad storm came through with straight-line winds, and we lost power for several days, and did the same thing.

Since the tornadoes, we have bought a generator of our own, and installed a well. We were lucky to have had running water because the tower that supplied our water was not without power, but we didn’t want to take that chance for the future.

If you are in an area that experiences tornadoes, or hurricanes, or some other natural disaster, what have you done to prepare your home and family?


Natural Disasters – Hurricane Ike – In an Unlikely Place

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By Betty Thomason Owens

Here in the Louisville, Kentucky area, we see a lot of weather-related natural disasters. We are smack in the middle of the Eastern United States, 660+ miles from the Atlantic, 610+ miles from the Gulf. The mighty Ohio River is our northern boundary. Kentucky’s western boundary is the Mississippi River. We’re in the area of the New Madrid fault where 200 years ago, a powerful earthquake left a lasting imprint.

Most of our weather related disasters involve tornadoes and floods. This year, we note the passage of forty years since the outbreak of a “super storm” when a huge number of tornadoes swept across the nation’s midsection and decimated some of our city’s most beautiful homes.


Hurricane Ike

The Ohio is prone to flooding, especially after a winter of heavy snow, such as the one we’ve had this year. And then there’s the other extreme–droughts that a few years back killed off the famous Bluegrass so many of us used for our lawns. But the event I remember most as I write this, was Hurricane Ike. We don’t often have a hurricane this far inland. But Ike was determined and full of pep.

I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning when Ike blew through, hard and fast with sustained winds of seventy-five miles per hour. Not just a quick pass-through you might expect with straight-winds, but high winds for an extended time. I watched out the window of our sanctuary as the shingles on the building next door flapped like flags in the wind.

By the time the service ended, the damage was done. Trees blocked our progress on the way home and the power was off. Other than roof damage, our home was safe. Over 300,000 in Louisville were without power. Over 600,000 statewide. Utility workers traveled to Kentucky from as far away as Mississippi to help us get the power back on. We were among the more fortunate. We were only without power for three days.

We were in a state of emergency. The Louisville International Airport closed, as well as Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. I remember how quiet it was as we lived through those days with our house opened up. No refrigerator humming. No washer or dryer or dishwasher drumming. You could hear the neighbors as they talked and laughed. We visited with one another over the fence or on our porches. There was no television, no music blaring. Just people interacting, kind of like they used to, before we became so dependent on the media.

Some residents were without power for nearly a month. For the next few months, the area was filled with the sounds of the hammer as many of us received new shingles on our homes. We lost many of our beautiful trees, suffered flood and wind damage. In the aftermath, insurance rates sky-rocketed. But we had lived through something a little bit amazing. If you live near the coast, you expect storms off the sea. You have a warning and usually have time to prepare for them. In Kentucky, we often get the remnants of a big storm as it begins to break up. But this time, we got a full-on frontal attack and it was not expected.

So, think about it:

  • What natural disasters occur where you live?
  • What type of natural disaster would be most unusual in your area of the country?

Life-changing events in the form of natural disasters make good fodder for writing. You can use personal experience for your writing, or research a more exotic disaster. There is plenty of information out there. Just be sure you stay true to your setting and choose an event that would actually occur in that region. But don’t overlook the occasional hurricane in Kentucky.


Have you ever had one of those weeks that you just don’t know what day it is? Well, that is this week for me. Usually I have something to remind me. Like church on Sunday, or my daughter’s dance on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or rain on Wednesday.

There has been little to nothing rain wise and the temperatures have been hot, hot, hot. Kind of odd for Kansas in June. Oh, it does get hot in June, but not usually this hot this fast.

But I’m not here to talk about the temperatures, not really. I’m here to talk about clouds. As I’ve said there are so many different types. It’d take at least another month to cover them all. So, I’ve reserved today (a day late) for my favorite types of clouds. Cumulonimbus. There are several sub-species of these types of clouds and because they all form in unstable air they almost always produce some type of storm, whether it’s a little rain shower or a massive thunderstorm that produces tornadoes.

These three pictures were taken the day of the Joplin tornado from just south of Topeka. These pictures were taken looking southeast. Although the tops are high (cumulus congestus) they don’t look to bad.

Here the rest of the cloud base is beginning to explode and meet that single tower. This is a small example of cumulonimbus calvas. Of course, I’m betting the people closer to the storm would think it’s not so small.

This is the same set of clouds, but they’ve moved further away.

This is a different day and I’m looking toward the west as the sun is setting. My point of showing you this picture is for you to get a perspective of what these types of clouds look like coming and going.

Looks ominous, doesn’t it? Just some funky looking clouds with wind and rain. Nothing more.

I believe this is a very turbulent Mammatus cloud. These types of clouds can be associated with tornadic cells. And if I recall correctly this one did have tornado warning on it.

This is a funnel cloud. My husband took this picture just a block from our home.

And this is the same storm, the same funnel cloud. My brother took this picture from his house several miles northeast from ours.

These clouds aren’t considered tornadoes until they actually touch the ground.

Here is an excerpt from my Western Romance Love at Twenty Paces–

Shielding her eyes, she scanned the western sky. In typical Kansas fashion, the sun shone high and hot, while bright, white clouds bubbled like suds in a washtub. A storm was brewing. If it got too hot, the clouds too high, a monster wind was sure to funnel down from the sky and rip to shreds everything in its path.

This week’s writing prompt- choose one of the pictures above and write a small scene.