I surveyed the tornado damage in Joplin last week and wanted to share my impressions. You can see a few of the pictures I took (click on pictures to the right), but even those don't do justice to the vastness of the destruction. If you're in the middle of the damage path, no matter which direction you look you will see what I can only imagine looks like a large bomb has exploded-destruction as far as the eye can see.
I can tell you that the few people we spoke to seemed to be focused on the task at hand, cleaning up. Various charity organizations were offering free water, sunscreen, work gloves, food, pet food, and other needed items to the residents who were trying to clean up in sweltering heat. And these charity stations were all over the place. It was encouraging to see that a week later the organizations able to give had not packed up, but instead were still there giving.
As for the damage, in a word it was incredible. I saw what was once a Commerce bank, but everything was gone except the vault. No walls, no windows, no carpet, no teller windows...just a thick cement vault was left standing.
I saw a semi-truck cab that one man told me had been thrown about 125 yards and wrapped around a tree (see picture here, the metal is literally bent around the tree trunk). I was told that after the tornado people who came out of St. John's hospital either couldn't find their car (because it was hurled away) or couldn't recognize which car was theirs (because so many cars were smashed up beyond recognition). Homes were destroyed, but it was the vastness again that struck me. It wasn't a few homes here or there...it was entire neighborhoods on both sides of the main street.
I spent the day in Joplin working on a story explaining what EF5 damage looks like and what the experts look for in rating tornado damage. I hope I never see that type of destruction again, but it was truly amazing to see up close the power of wind. After all, a tornado is just wind. Perhaps that is what makes it even more scary, a force of nature that is intangible, fierce one moment and gone the next.
And when I'm tracking potentially tornadic storms, we never know how bad the storm will be until it is hitting and passed. You can only tell so much from radar, and not every rotating storm on radar produces a tornado. But scenes of destruction like that in Joplin remind me of the power a violent tornado can unleash.