As you know, the Pineapple People are always looking for ways to assist others. That’s the reason that Pineapple Hands was born. Yesterday, we decided to take action and make the drive north to Joplin. I can’t begin to express how glad I am that we did.
Last Sunday, the community of 50,000 was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado; it’s the deadliest tornado in 60 years. The death toll currently stands at 132, with 156 people still listed as missing.
We thought that even though we are a small group of five people, maybe there is something we can do to help. Or maybe we can make someone smile or brighten a day.
We loaded our backpacks with movie candy (something sweet is always a nice treat) and coolers full of cold bottled water, parked the car, and started walking.
I cannot even begin to describe the devastation. I’m sure you’ve seen footage on television of the tragedy, but it does not even begin to describe the magnitude of the destruction. It’s absolutely indescribable. You can literally see for miles, and all that is visible are piles of what used to be people’s lives. I heard someone on the radio describe it as if King Kong had been there, and that is a fairly accurate description. The path is so long, and the damage is so widespread; you can’t picture it unless you see it in person and it’s in your face.
We did what we could; we simply walked and asked people if they needed help, whether it was searching for a particular item in the rubble, or moving a large piece of furniture. We offered everyone candy and water; so many people said, “Oh, thanks, we’re fine” until we mentioned the water was cold, and then they jumped at the chance. There are cases of water all over the city, many sitting on street corners in the heat. But cold water is hard to find. And since the entire city is under a “boil order”, which means any water used has to be boiled for at least three minutes, bottled water is really the only option. Even convenience stores that weren’t directly affected cannot serve any products using water, like tea, coffee or the soda fountain. We were pleased that offering such a small item like cold water was so happily accepted.
A few families asked us to help dig for a specific belonging. One family was searching for a small filing cabinet, which we found under a fallen wall. One elderly veteran was looking for an old wooden footlocker that contained his American flag; we didn’t have any luck with the box, but we did locate the flag. We actually helped one man find his wallet and keys, which is a miracle in itself, considering the mess we were digging through. And after handing over the keys, the man’s wife grinned, gestured toward the foundation of the house and said, “Should I lock up?”
We spoke to several individuals who rode out the storm; some were in basements, others in hallways or bathrooms, and one couple spent the terrifying minutes in the crawlspace under their house. The stories of the survivors are chilling, and they were all eager to share. The crawlspace family was trapped, and the man’s elderly father walked a mile through the rain and debris afterward to chop them out with an axe. One couple told us about their daughter who ran two miles to their home after the storm, in the rain and the dark, barefoot, wearing shorts. Upon arrival, she couldn’t tell them how she got there. Adrenaline was high, and shock was prevalent, but these folks are now facing reality and standing tall, doing whatever it takes to rebuild.
The spirit and determination of the town is one to be reckoned with. Several homes have hung American flags from whatever is left standing. Many have a good sense of humor, like those that have posted “For Rent” or “Garage Sale” signs on their property. We saw a car, upside-down and partially wrapped around a tree, that had been spray painted with the message: “For Sale, Cheap. Fixer-Upper.” Every home has been spray painted with names of insurance companies, messages that the family members are “OK” and if there is a gas leak within the home. A large X means that the home has been searched by the search and recovery teams. There is definitely something eerie and unsettling and very real about that. But next to those messages are ones that say things like, “God Bless Joplin” and “Down but Not Out.”
The citizens of Joplin have promised to rebuild their beloved community. The high school and hospital lay in ruins. Medical records from the hospital have been found up to 70 miles away. The majority of large businesses like Home Depot, Walmart and Academy are demolished beyond repair. And most of the homes have been destroyed, so much so that you can easily see from one end of town to the other, through the entire six-mile path that was left by the tornado.
A tornado is a finicky creature. I know that it’s wind, but something in my headwill always think of them as a live being; it just seems unreal that a weather pattern can cause so much complete destruction. There are entire houses that are gone, yet closets with clothes hanging in perfect order are still standing. We saw two homes that had but one wall remaining, and that wall was covered in bookshelves, with all of the books still aligned. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the chaos.
We hope that although many of you are unable to travel to Joplin (or the recently affected communities in the Oklahoma City area), that you will still do your part to assist those in need. The smallest donation can make a difference to someone; donate a case of water (five bucks at Dollar General), some of your old clothing or toys, or buy some toiletries. There are many organizations that are gathering supplies; facebook is crawling with them. There are also several facebook pages for both regions that will let you know what is needed and where.
If nothing else, please take a moment to pray for those affected, for comfort and strength and perseverance. If you aren’t the praying type, some positive vibes will go a long way. Take a moment today to be grateful for what you have, for there are so many that have nothing.
To view the photos from our Joplin journey, please click HERE. I would like to add that in no way do I intend to offend anyone with the fact that I took photographs. I was intentionally discreet with taking them, as not to offend anyone. I truly feel that this is a positive way to share our journey, and to emphasize how much assistance those in the affected areas need. See you next week, Pineapple fans.