One week after the EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Mo. on May 22, 2011, the Joplin Globe newspaper stated
The tornado stayed on the ground for six miles, churning up neighborhoods, businesses, churches, schools, homes and lives. Three-quarters of a mile wide at times, the slow-moving tornado ground up everything before it.
The toll: an estimated 8,000 structures, roughly 300 businesses and 4,000 jobs affected, more than 1,150 injured and 142 lives lost. And counting.
The count ended at 161 lives lost during, or as a result of, the 20 minutes of terror that the tornado inflicted on Joplin and its residents.
When visiting Joplin two weeks after the tornado, I could only think this must be what a war zone looks like. Standing near the intersection of S. Range Line Road and E. 20th Street, the devastation was as far as the eye could see in every direction.
In a 2011 photo essay for Digital Journal, I attempted to relay through photographs the damage done by the tornado. On the one-year anniversary, photos are used to compare and contrast then and now with a focus on businesses located on or near S. Range Line Road.
In 2011, the lone black bird in the midst of the destruction seemed like a bad sign. But, due to the passing of a year and the determination of business owners and employees, many of the destroyed businesses in Joplin are back or are coming back.
Open for Business
Grant Deardorff was on the scene Sunday evening, May 22, 2011 and took numerous photographs of the tornado's aftermath. He was kind enough to share some with me, and since that time he has put more than 360 images together in The Heart of Joplin-The Joplin Tornado
digital eBook. One image Deardorff shared was of the rubble that used to be an Aldi grocery store. Today, that store is rebuilt and open for business.
The Home Depot was leveled in 2011, but now the store is open and the parking lot was full of non-demolished cars on May 22, 2012.
When I stood in front of, and then entered, the feeble frame of the Academy Sports+Outdoors store in 2011, the experience and scenes before me were overwhelming. Now the store has been rebuilt and a clerk told me that Academy reopened in January of 2012. Interestingly, corporate bureaucracy is also back in place. I was told I was not allowed to take photos inside the building without prior consent from headquarters.
In 2011, there was a demolished restaurant on S. Range Line that I simply could not identify, and at the time, no one could tell me what the rubble used to be. So, on May 22, 2012, I went to that spot and saw only a foundation. Next door was a Pizza Hut, so I entered for the purpose of finding out what restaurant used to be their neighbor. I found out much more. I was told the unidentifiable restaurant from 2011 was a Sonic.
But, once in the Pizza Hut, it was the plaque on the wall that caught my attention. I asked the cashier if it was in tribute to Pizza Hut customers, in general, who had lost their lives during the tornado. I was told that the plaque is in remembrance of the store manager, a team leader, and three customers who were killed that Sunday evening. The manager tried to get everyone into the storage locker in the back, but the wind pulled him out before he could close the door. The bodies were found about 50 or so yards away near what remained of the Academy Sports+Outdoors building.
The Sonic at that site on S. Range Line was not rebuilt. However, Pizza Hut reopened in the latter part of March 2012 and is "Now Hiring - All Positions."
There are, however, some businesses on S. Range Line that have yet to reopen such as the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) and Jim Bob's Steak and Ribs. But, there are plans to reopen
both of those restaurants.