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On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin and neighboring Duquense, killing 161 people.As part of KSMU's quarterly Sense of Community series May 18-23, we examined the recovery efforts since the storm.View our stories below to hear from city leaders and community members about the rebuilding challenges, successes, and resiliency of those involved over these past five years. You'll learn about the Disaster Recovery Summit, a two-day event bringing together citizens and leaders from other tornado-stricken communities to assess recovery efforts, how tornado safe rooms have become commonplace in southwest Missouri since the storm, and how the city and school are honoring those lost as a result of the tornado.

Marking Love, Help, and Resilience: A Final Salute to Joplin at Year 5

Scott Harvey
Hundreds gathered at Cunningham Park Sunday to mark 5 years since the tornado.

“I survived. May 22, 2011.” Those are the words on the shirt of Dave Hodges. The words accompany an image of a pickup truck – its windows blown out - parked next to Commerce Bank along 20th Street in Joplin. There’s debris everywhere. Inside that truck is where he and his wife, Lynn, rode out the storm five years ago.

“And at the time we were thinking – I know I was thinking – if anything bigger than this pea-sized stuff that’s hitting me right now comes through and hits me it’s gonna be over,” he said.  

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Dave Hodges wore his "I survived" shirt for the first time on Sunday.

It is Sunday, May 22, 2016 – five years after the storm. The couple has setup their lawn chairs under a tree at Cunningham Park. The venue played host to a “Gathering of Remembrance and Hope.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever wore it [the shirt]. And I thought it would be a pretty good day to wear it,” Hodges says.

The Hodges joined hundreds at the ceremony which was the culmination in a series of events marking the fifth anniversary of the storm. They ranged from a disaster recovery summit focusing on lessons learned to tours of the recovery areas. Sunday’s event combined to offer reflections of that day, honor those lost, and as an appreciation for the people who helped. Jared Hogan, who helped coordinate the Rebuild Joplin efforts, said everyone observes the anniversary in their own way. He wanted to focus his energy on gratitude. 

“I wanna remember the hundreds of AmeriCorps servant leaders who sacrificed careers and times with friends and family to rebuild our homes and lives. I wanna remember the churches who came tight packed in vans and volunteered for years. I wanna remember the Stars of Hope hand-painted by our nation’s youth just to say we’re thinking about you,” Hogan said.

…Here in my hometown, the one like your hometown. There might be a bigger mess of it, we might have a little less of it, but all we really need is all still here. Here in our hometown…

Along with speeches by Hogan, Gov. Jay Nixon and others, Kenny Foster offered reflections in the form of song. He wrote “Hometown” following the storm.

161 people died in the tornado. Those names were read by Michelle Hare and Bethany Newsom, two citizens who each lost loved ones.

“My son [Lantz] is on this list. He was 16. He passed away in the tornado. He was in a car,” said Hare.

“Donald Wayne Lansaw, Jr. was my husband,” says Bethany Newsom. “He protected me during the storm [and] unfortunately lost his life saving mine.”

Cunningham Park, Joplin
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

In alphabetical order, the two begin to read the victim’s names. Hare gets to her son – her voice shaking.  Newsom would later read her late husband’s name, pausing for a moment afterward to collect herself before proceeding with the names.

Five bell tolls at 5:41 p.m. marked five years since the storm. It would be followed by a moment of silence and prayer.

“I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle whenever you think back and you always wonder what if – what if you could have done something different,” said Newsom. “But then you have to think about the good times you had with each other and just get through each day.”

Newsom said Joplin is an amazing place, given that after the tornado everyone rallied together and did their best to bring “everyone up.”  

Leaders from all capacities were recognized at the ceremony, from politicians in their help through legislation and federal funding procedures to the thousands of volunteers near and far for their dedication and compassion.

Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Stanley says in the days and months after the tornado, more than 425 AmeriCorps members arrived to help out. They were joined by more than 150,000 community volunteers.  

“Together they served more than one million volunteer hours and helped more than 3,000 households,” Stanley said.  

To the right of where Stanley spoke sits a tribute to those volunteers and others. A plaque reads in part, “The Miracle of the Human Spirit symbolizes the incredible outpouring of volunteers who have lifted Joplin out of the rubble. Countless volunteers from all walks of life have offered themselves to the Joplin effort without request, serving as a reminder of the overwhelming power of human generosity and the steadfast tenacity to rebuild the once broken city.”

Dave Hodges and his wife Lynn, who barely survived the storm from inside their pickup truck, share in that appreciation.

Five years after the storm, a day in which he wore his tornado survivor shirt for the first time, Hodges says he feels the town is “bigger and better than it ever was.”