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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.

Joplin Prepares to Commemorate Fifth Anniversary of Tornado with Series of Events

Jennifer Moore

The city of Joplin has been readying to observe the fifth anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the community on May 22, 2011. Joplin Proud, an organization comprised of community volunteers, is hosting a series of events starting Thursday and leading up to Sunday, May 22.

Gary Bandy is a retired meteorologist and member of the Joplin Proud committee. He says questionnaires were sent out in 2014 asking citizens of Joplin and the neighboring community of Duquesne, which was also hit by the tornado, how they wanted to commemorate the fifth anniversary and the 161 lives lost.

“This has in the past few years really become the defining moment of the city of Joplin and Duquesne, Missouri,” Bandy says. “If you lived here at the time you know the impact it made on you whether you lost someone, whether you lost property. You undoubtedly know someone who did, who lost both.”

Bandy says the most impactful event will be the Joplin Disaster Recovery Summit. The two-day event runs Thursday and Friday at the Billingsly Student Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus.

“I have thought from weeks after the tornado hit that so much was learned with feet on the ground in Joplin, Missouri how to respond to something like this because there’s no template for it,” Bandy says. “This was the most deadly tornado to have happened since the early 50s. Virtually every decision was made on the fly, and almost every decision made at that time was a great decision.”

The summit includes a tour around town to understand the scope of the damage and documentary screenings. It also will feature sessions led by city and emergency managers from across the country whose communities have experienced natural disasters.

“The more knowledge that these city managers and emergency managers have when going into a situation, and to try and get their communities back on their feet, the better they’re going to be able to handle a situation like that,” Bandy says.

Jane Cage, another Joplin Proud committee member, says she met with many of the city officials that will be traveling to Joplin during tours with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 2011 tornado.

“Even though we’ve come a long way, we’re certainly not completely recovered yet,” Cage says. “I think four years ago, we might have been naïve to think that we could be rebuilt, but it’s slower progress than I think any of us expected. And certainly more complicated.”

To commemorate the lives lost, there will be a walk of silence at 7:30 pm Friday during which Joplin Street will be closed to traffic. 161 banners will extend from 9th to 20th streets, honoring tornado victims through the section of town that the tornado did much of its damage. On Saturday morning, there will also be a memorial marathon.

A pet reunion has been planned by the Joplin Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Saturday from 11 to 4 p.m. in Parr Hill Park. Free microchips will be available to pet owners on a first-come, first-serve basis, and families can also find a new pet to adopt.

Joplin Proud has adopted the symbol of a butterfly to represent how the community transition from rubble to rebuilding. Butterfly sculptures can be found at some city businesses and local hospitals.

“It is symbolic in that these communities have come out of their chrysalis stage, and they are doing what they can to thrive,” Bandy says. “It’s been a remarkable improvement in what has happened in just five years.”

On Saturday, there will be an event for children called Wings and Wonder at Cunningham Park from 1 to 2:30 p.m. where will be arts, crafts and science activities revolving around the butterfly theme.

Bandy adds that this series of events is also about giving thanks to the volunteers that assisted in the relief efforts immediately after and in the months and years since the storm.

“There were over 150,000 volunteers that came into this region from all over the country, which was one of the most emotional things I have ever seen in my entire life,” Bandy says. “These people who came in, on their own dime, they may have come in with other groups or church groups or faith-based groups or whatever, but they were called to this region to try to help.”

There will be a picnic Sunday called Pride, Progress and Potato Salad from 1 to 4 p.m. in Cunningham Park to thank volunteers.

For Joplin’s future, Cage would like to again see the tree canopies lining the streets that were devastated by the storm.

“It’s still so apparent when you drive from a neighborhood like mine that wasn’t affected at all and is still surrounded by beautiful green trees through the tornado zone where everything is new and small still in comparison,” Cage says. “So it takes away the visible scars the tornado left when the tree canopy returns.”

Other events sponsored by Joplin Proud include self-guided tours of tornado-stricken neighborhoods, and opportunities to hear original music inspired by the storm. The last event is the Gathering of Remembrance and Hope on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Cunningham Park to honor the lives lost and recognize the resilience of the community.

Stay with KSMU throughout the week and weekend to hear sounds and reactions from some of these events. See a complete list of anniversary events or learn how to become involved at or Joplin Proud’s Facebook page.